Wednesday, March 20, 2013


On October 27, 1976, my wife Tina, 2-year-old daughter Tanya, first cousin Preding Maynigo Bugayong and I, together with a Muslim family – Gerry Jumat, Boots (Ayson) Jumat, kids Lara and Wally arrived in Tawau, Sabah.

We just escaped from the Marcos dictatorship via Kumpit (Pump Boat) coming from Gerry Jumat’s birthplace, the small Island of Sitangkai. I was disguised as a Muslim barter trader named Abdul Julkanain, a supposed descendant of Alexander the Great.

After traveling for several days from Makati passing through Zamboanga, Jolo (Sulu) and Tawi-tawi, the trip from Sitangkai to Tawau was literally a breath of fresh air. Upon reaching the high seas we could not help feeling the excitement of being freed from the clutches of Martial Law and the Marcos dictatorship.

Then, a boat of pirates started chasing us. Luckily, we were escorted by a group of Muslim soldiers with sub-machine guns who chased them back exchanging gunfire that innocently brought excitement to my 2-year old daughter. The pirates went away.

A few hours later a Malaysian Navy ship came to us for inspection. They checked our cases of Coke and several cans of Baguio Oil that we brought to barter. Besides, Abdul Julkanain must have looked quite a credible trader. So, we were let go and proceeded to Sabah. Which direction? With no GPS and no COMPASS, we relied on a BADJAO, a Filipino native seaman to navigate us using the Sun and the Moon. We arrived in Tawau, Sabah safely much later amidst rain and thunder.

We could not get clearance to enter until the Immigration officials went around the small port premises shouting my real name – Benjamin Maynigo. It took a while because I originally came in as barter trader Abdul Julkanain.

We stayed in Sabah for more than 4 months initially under the care of the local Catholic Church whose Parish Priest was Fr. John Lee. Later, we moved to a small inn called Hotel Soon Yee this time under the care of the Malaysian authorities and the Red Crescent (Red Cross).

Earlier, when we first arrived, a debriefing was arranged by the Malaysian Home Affairs Ministry; first, to determine my personal identity – meaning, if I was really Benjamin Maynigo; and second, to determine if I was not a Marcos agent infiltrating Sabah. This was followed up later on with a telephone conversation with then Home Affairs Minister Ghazali Shafie who later became Foreign Minister.

At the debriefing, I was shown some newspaper and magazine clippings that had pictures of me and articles about me by the Scotland Yard-trained investigators. This was because of my involvement in the Student Revolution and in anti-Marcos rallies in the Philippines.

Then, we covered the Sabah Claim. I told them about my limited knowledge of the issue at the time. As a student, I opposed the exposed plan of Marcos to invade Sabah and the resulting Jabidah Massacre.  I mentioned to the investigators the role of retired Colonel Bonifacio Gillego in providing intelligence and research data on the Jabidah Massacre to then Senators Gene Magsaysay and Benigno Aquino, Jr.  They knew that Senator Aquino exposed Marcos’ plan and the corresponding massacre of the Muslim trainees to invade Sabah.

Bonifacio Gillego was the Deputy Secretary General of the Christian Social Movement (CSM) while its Founding President was former Senator and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Raul Manglapus. I was the former head of the CSM youth arm. Heading a group of rebels in the mountains of Bicol, Boni had written to Manglapus earlier about wanting to escape to join him in Washington, D.C. So I knew that he would eventually pass by Tawau, Sabah, using the same route.

Boni subsequently escaped and joined us in Washington, D.C. In one of his memoirs, he recognized that my stories about him regarding the Jabidah Massacre saved him from strong suspicions by the Home Affairs investigators because of his being a former military intelligence officer.

By the way, Boni also provided the research work and data on the Marcos Fake Medals under the auspices of Raul Manglapus’ Movement for a Free Philippines.

FAST FORWARD.  It is the early 1990s. Cory Aquino was President, and Raul Manglapus was Secretary of Foreign Affairs. I was earlier awarded a Master of Laws Degree in International Law. In one of my trips to the Philippines, I was approached by a Muslim group who supposedly belonged to the Kiram family and were heirs to the Sultan of Sulu. They asked for my legal assistance. I was provided with some documents.

An American International lawyer friend from Washington, D.C. who also happened to be the brother of the then U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines was also visiting Manila. I decided to arrange a meeting between the American attorney and the representatives of the heirs. I joined them at the lobby of the Manila Hotel. It was a fruitful meeting and I promised to get back to them later.

When we were back in Washington, D.C. my American lawyer-friend sought the help of Georgetown Law interns to do the research work on the Sabah Claim. They did it one entire summer and came up with a legal report resulting from data and information gathered and accessed from Washington, D.C. sources. Over a luncheon, the report was discussed with my lawyer-friend and me. All the documents were turned over to me. I read them with great interest and excitement. In my next trip to Manila, I brought the very large folder containing all the documents, and arranged meetings that included the Secretary of Foreign Affairs Raul Manglapus and the heirs of the Sultanate.

The Sabah Claim is a legitimate claim under International Law. The proprietary rights of the heirs of the Sultanate are pursuable under the right conditions. Philippine sovereignty claim over the territory has already been filed, and as of today, has not been withdrawn.

Senators Salonga and Sumulong equally made good arguments when the Sabah Claim on behalf of the Sultan of Sulu was discussed at the Senate in the 1960s.

I think that there is a possible solution to the problem. I will discuss my recommendations then, and now as a result of our study on the matter in my next column.

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