Leaders from islands in the southern part of the Philippines met recently but not to plot an invasion of Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah as a recent unverified article had reported, a military official said Saturday.
Additionally, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dismissed as false the report in the South China Morning Post this week that southern leaders were hatching a plan to send about 600 men to invade Sabah in Malaysian Borneo.
“It is fake news. Not true,” Lorenzana told Benar News.
1Lt. Jerrica Manongdo, spokesman of the Joint Task Force Sulu, concurred.
“There was a meeting. But it had nothing to do with Sabah or Malaysia,” Manongdo told BenarNews, referring to the gathering of southern leaders in the unverified report.
Malaysia had said a day earlier that it, too, not found any evidence of a plot to attack Sabah, but had nevertheless placed its security forces in the state on heightened alert following the report.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said his ministry was trying to verify information about the alleged plot with his counterparts in the Philippines and Indonesia.
“Any form of threat must be independently verified and taken seriously, even if they are not substantiated,” Hishammuddin said in a statement.
“I have … instructed the leaders of the three branches of the Malaysian Armed Forces, namely the army, the navy, and the air force, to ramp up their preparedness to the highest possible level, especially in East Coast Sabah.”
The minister also said he was working with Philippine Defense Secretary Lorenzana.
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s armed forces chief also said there was no evidence that a group of Sulu leaders from the Southern Philippines were plotting to invade the state, as the report had said.
Affendi Buang said Sabahans need not panic as security would nevertheless be heightened in the eastern border state.
Filipinos from Sulu, an archipelago in the far southern Philippines, did try to take over Sabah eight years ago; the sovereignty of the state is the source of a long-standing dispute between Malaysia and the Philippines.
On Feb. 11, 2013, a group of 200-odd armed members of the so-called Royal Sulu Army entered Sabah’s Lahad Datu district, sparking a standoff with Malaysian security officials that lasted a month before officials secured the area.
The clash ended in June with casualties on both sides. Ten members of the Malaysian security forces and six civilians were killed, along with 56 Sulu gunmen, according to media reports from that time.
Ramli Dollah, a security analyst from Universiti Malaysia Sabah, had told BenarNews that another such attack was “highly improbable.”
“Normally, issues like this only appear when elections are coming. It was almost the same in the last election,” he told BenarNews, referring to a general election scheduled for next May in the Philippines
“If you ask me about the chances of this [attack] happening, I would say no, but it is not impossible.”