Piracy Business in the Sulu Seas.

“I am a Sulu. My parents are of Sulu origin and so are their parents. Aren’t you afraid?” That was the ultimatum given by a Filipino maid to a Malaysian couple, to force the latter to release her employment contract, unconditionally.

Should we be afraid?” replied the Malay husband. Never had it crossed his mind that a Sulu, by tradition, is a ruthless killer, kidnapper and pirate.

Post-independence Malays are ignorant to the fact that in traditional Sulu culture, piracy, implanting fear to one’s enemy and selling of slaves are equated with bravery; and would be equated with high stature wothin the Sulu community.

The Sulu Filipino maid left the couple’s two-year old daughter at home, unattended and alone, when the couple left for work the next morning.


The rebel pirates.

In December 2011, a Warren Rodwell, 54, an Australian citizen, was taken at gunpoint from his boathouse in Zamboanga Sibugay, Philippines by Mindanao separatist rebel-group, the Abu Sayyaf.

Rodwell’s Filipino wife, Miraflor Gutang had to sell their house, water refilling station, vehicle and seek help from relatives abroad to come up with 4 million Peso ransom, out of the demanded 7 million. The rebels conveniently renamed the ransom, “boarding and lodging” expenses.

Rodwell was finally released in March 23, 2013, apparently looking tired, weak and thin. He was too weak to even lift a cup of tea to his lips.

The Abu Sayyaf reportedly is still holding a Japanese treasure hunter, Toshio Ito, 66, since 2010.

On May 3, 2000, Abu Sayyaf occupied a Malaysian dive resort on Sipadan island, and took 21 hostages, including 10 tourists and 11 resort workers. The hostages were taken to an Abu Sayyaf base in Jolo, Sulu.

Most hostages were released in August and September 2000, partly due to mediation by Libyan leader, the late Muammar Gaddafi; with an offer of USD $25 million in “development aid”.

On September 10, in the same year, Abu Sayyaf again conducted a second raid on the island of Pandanan near Sipadan and seized three more Malaysians.

The Philippines army finally launched a major offensive on September 16, 2000, rescuing all remaining hostages, except Filipino dive instructor Roland Ullah, who was eventually freed in 2003.

Whereas, the MNLF, yet another Moro (Muslim Filipinos) separatist-rebel group kidnapped Ewold Horn, 52, a Holand wildlife photographer; and one Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, from Switzerland.

In fact, over the last 20 years, there were more than 2000 cases of piracy and kidnapping within the Sulu seas, particularly within southern Philippines, Sulu islands and Tawi-Tawi. Most of the victims involve Europeans and westerners.

To a Sulu, every non-Sulu is not a person, an individual, or a fellow human being; but a source of income.

Piracy as a business

Piracy and the sales of slaves captured from piracy were a traditional means of livelihood for the Sulu Moros ever since their existence, in the 1400s.

When Spain ceded Philippines to the United States, piracy was somewhat curtailed due to the latter’s continued commitment and military might. A department was specially created to combat piracy in the Sulu seas. As a result, thousands of firearms were collected from the rebel militants’ homes and prahus.

But when the Philippines obtained her independence from the United States in 1946, the system of law and order became ‘less efficient’.

Policing piracy within the Sulu seas become even more difficult when the three neighbouring countries, i.e, Malaysia-Philippines-Indonesia fail to set aside their border disputes, to fight a common territorial problem, i.e, piracy.

The business of piracy and kidnapping thrive as long as the victims succumbed to the kidnappers financial demands. The monies collected from ransom, would then be used to purchase high-powered speed boats and arms, which in turn would be used to kidnap more western victims

The role of peace agreements

Just as piracy is a culture in a Moro/Sulu society, so is the breaking of agreements. In the history of Sulu and the Moros, agreements were made to be broken. Agreements are only made to buy them time or as a stepping stone to achieving a greater objective.

All three rebel groups—MNLF, Abu Sayyaf and MILF—not only share the same base (Jolo), but they also share the same ‘greater’ objective. The ‘greater objective’, is to have absolute freedom. Freedom, as Nur Misuari, the double-tongue rebel leader puts it, to rule as they please and to live, in accordance to their ancestral way, the good-ole-days, where the means of livelihood is piracy. Piracy is what they are good at, and is what they would like to continue doing. (See AlJazeera-Misuari interview here).

Anyone who believes that by engaging the rebels–MNLF, Abu Sayyaf or MILF–into a peace agreement would eliminate civil war or piracy, would be in for a rude awakening.

Have we not learn anything from history? The Sultan of Sulu ceded the island of Balambangan, northern Borneo and southern Palawan to the British, as a gesture of gratitute; only to be massacred and chased out like pigs. By the Sulus.

The Moros signed the 1996 peace agreement whereby Mindanao and the Sulu islands were given full autonomy; plus its leader (Nur Misuari) appointed as a Governor; yet Nur Misuari himself had secretly planned for an armed rebellion in Jolo. (See article, So who is really behind the Sabah Invasion?)

The Abu Sayyaf was paid a hefty USD 25 million ransom, under the guise of “development aid” by Libya to release kidnapped westerners from the island of Sipadan, only to turn around and kidnap yet another group from an island adjacent to Sipadan.

During the Al-Jazeera interview, tongue-twister Misuari had condemned the act of kidnapping by Abu Sayyaf as being unislamic, but conveniently forgets his group’s own kidnapping of a Swiss and Dutch national. 

He said he cared for ‘his people’, yet sent more than 100,000 of them, to their death.

And all throughout the 70s, up until his deportation from Malaysia, he had recognized the UN-initiated referendum made by Sabahans to remain in Malaysia. Suddenly, when both Malaysia and Philippines government unilaterally denounced his corrupt multi-religious MNLF group, in favour of a totally-Muslim group, MILF,  not only did he start claiming Sabah, but Sarawak as well. 

So how to solve the Sulu problem?

Paying off the Moro rebels would certainly not help solve piracy problem within the Sulu seas. Paying off ransom each time a western tourist is kidnapped, would only make each foreign tourist, more valuable.

Likewise, signing a peace agreement would only provide a temporary relieve before the rebels regroup and reassemble themselves for a bigger, more fatal attack.

Worst still, granting full independence to the Moros and the reincarnation of a Sulu Sultanate would not guarantee peace within the region. For piracy is their culture, their source of income and their livelihood. Full independence would only flourish the piracy business in the Sulu seas.

So, what gives? After years of battling the Sulu pirates, the Spaniards found one very effective method to amputate the former. The same method was also successfully used during the US’s reign over the Philippines.

Both the Spaniard and US colonists had each organized a large scale, massive attack on the Sulu’s homeland. At the heart of their base, in Jolo. 

And while we are at it, we might as well pursue them at their homeground: in Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and all other islands where the pirates stash their material belongings. Where they live and thrive.

– DM


5 thoughts on “Piracy Business in the Sulu Seas.

  1. 1400’s-1900’s was not a Piracy, but it was the Sulu Sultanate strategy to counter attacked the European colonizers in Nusantara.

    1. Interesting perspective.

      Perhaps not in the 15th century, however in later years, such is bot the case. Piracy, as evident even today, when not checked, thrives and remains profitable.

    1. Real men do not go to other people lands to fight, kill or kidnap others. Real men protect their families and work hard to earn honest living for their family. Real men bring prosperity and peace to their family and community.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s