Of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, Diosdado Macapagal, the Muslim Filipinos and Sabah

Looking Back

with Ding Yahya

As I agreed to the clamor for me to write a brief biographical backdrop of the father of Malaya and Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, often called by his people Bapa Malaya (Father of Malaya) and Bapa Malaysia (Father of Malaysia), in relation to the Bangsamoro People and the Muslim Filipinos, I wish to start the story here.

Indeed, the Tunku as a Muslim leader had expressed one concern that I as a Muslim and the Muslims in the Philippines should be thankful for. It may not be known to many that it was the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra who had first brought to the attention of the Philippine government the need for the establishment of a mosque and a Muslim cemetery in the Philippines’ capital.

It was in July 1963; on the first summit of the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) hosted by then Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal, that Putra spoke to President Macapagal about the poor treatment meted out to Muslims in the Philippines. They had neither a place of worship nor a burial ground in the capital.

All Macapagal said in a rebuttal was that he realized this was true but to allow Muslims to have either a mosque or a cemetery in Manila would only anger the Christians, who were predominantly Catholics.

Putra asked: “Could he name any place in the world… where people were not free to practice their religion or to bury their dead, just because they happened to profess another religion?”

This was a time that coincided with the Philippine claim of Sabah as part of the former territory initiated and carried out by Macapagal for historical basis such as that Sabah used to belong to the Sultanate of Sulu, a sovereign state before it was subjugated by foreigners and later Manila imperialists.

“How could he expect North Borneo, with its many Muslims and religious freedom to join another country like the Philippines, which did not tolerate other forms of religious worship or the rights of people to live their lives as they chose?”

In one of his columns at The STAR, then famous daily in Malaysia those days, the Tunku wrote:

“Oh”, he said, “Sabah used to belong to the Sultanate of Sulu.” I replied, “But the Sultanate does not exist anymore”. He answered that it was necessary for him to have Sabah to better his own political position — so I countered by saying that I would hold on to Sabah, not only to better my political position but to fulfill the promise I had made, as well as to protect Sabah from the Philippines taking over, an act that would deny freedom of worship to a happy people.

“At the end of this particular discussion I laid stress once again on the absence of a place for Muslim worship, saying, “I want to see a mosque in Manila, for when I come here, I would like to pray, as well as to play.”

The dire plight of Muslims in the Philippines caused a wave of revulsion later, when a Conference of Islamic Foreign Ministers in Benghazi was to learn how badly they suffered.

Muslims had their lands taken away on the grounds that their names did not appear in the Register of Titles at the Land Office, so lands they had occupied for generations were given to Christians. Homes were burned, and what was far worse, there had been a massacre in a mosque.

“So, if Sabah had ever been handed over to the Philippines, its people would have suffered a terrible fate. Thanks be to God, it did not happen; and now the people of Sabah are among the most progressive and richest in Malaysia,” the Malay leader said.

The occasion of Macapagal’s reluctance, shall I say, discriminatory attitude towards the Muslim Filipinos, is a less remembered part of our history, but it should gain a place in the hearts of every Bangsamoro who must promote the sense and act of patriotism, the love of homeland and freedom, to make the Bangsamoro great. (Continued next issue)

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