Who, indeed, is Sultan Ibrahim Ismail of Johor, Malaysia, to Philippine President Noynoy Aquino? Is it true, as alleged by Princess Jacel Kiram— the outspoken daughter of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III—that Aquino is being advised by Ibrahim on the Sulu dispute, which is “why the President wouldn’t listen to any [other] advice”?
Ibrahim, 53, is the nominal ruler of the state of Johor, which used to span many of the islands on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula, including Singapore and some areas now part of Indonesia. A part of the Malaysian Federation since its inception in 1963, Johor was divided between the British and the Dutch during the colonial period.
The relationship between the Aquino family and the rulers of Johor actually spans two generations. Noynoy’s father, former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., was believed to be close friends with Ibrahim’s father, Mahmud Iskandar Al-Haj, who was himself Johor sultan from 1981 until his death in 2010.
Jacel Kiram has alleged that Ibrahim, the former sultan’s son, then the crown prince of Johor, lived with the Aquino family during the latter’s exile in Boston, Massachusetts in the early eighties. That would probably coincide with Ibrahim’s military training in the US, at Fort Benning, Georgia and Fort Bragg, North Carolina—in between his attending Trinity
Grammar School in Australia and being named regent of Johor in 1984.
It was young Ibrahim who met Ninoy in Singapore upon his arrival at that city en route to Manila, where he was assassinated in 1983. “Tunku” (or prince) Ibrahim later brought Ninoy to meet other Malaysian and regional leaders across the Causeway. Once in Johor, Aquino met Ibrahim’s father, Sultan Iskandar, “who was a close friend” of Ninoy’s, according to Wikipedia.
Writing in the New York Times Magazine on October 18, 1983, Ninoy’s brother-in-law Ken Kashiwahara related: “On Aug. 14, Ninoy flew to Singapore [from Los Angeles], using the fake passport with his real name. In Singapore, he was met by the son of the Sultan of Johor and whisked across the border to Malaysia, where he met with high-ranking officials from Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, to explain why he was going home and what he hoped to achieve.”
Ninoy then left his friend and host the Johor sultan to fly to Taiwan. From Taipei, he returned to Manila to meet his fate.
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Ibrahim is reported in the Malaysian press as an advocate of the use of force to expel the “armed intruders” sent by Kiram to Lahad Datu and other parts of Sabah. The Star of Malaysia recently reported that “Ibrahim decreed that solat hajat [special prayers] would be performed at every mosque in the state after Friday prayers and Maghrib prayers to pray for the safe return of brave soldiers and police officers on duty in Lahad Datu, Sabah.”
Princess Jacel has described the half-British Ibrahim as a “very powerful” man. Ibrahim is ruler of the fifth-largest state in the Malaysian Federation, whose government is led by Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman, of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition—the same political group that runs the entire country from Kuala Lumpur.
BN also has a stranglehold of politics in Sabah, thanks in large part to the “Project IC” immigration and voter-registration program of longtime Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad. Under the program, many Filipino Tausugs became Malaysian citizens and holders of that country’s identity cards (hence the name), in order to keep Sabah voting for BN and its main coalition partner, Mahathir’s United Malay Nationalist Organisation, or Umno.
What Ibrahim also has in common with Noynoy Aquino (apart from their pedigree and age) is a passion for ultra-fast and ultra-expensive cars. Ibrahim owns a Bugatti Veyron, Bentleys, Aston Martins and enough classic and current Mercedes-Benz cars to fill a book published in grateful appreciation by the German luxury automaker’s Malaysian office.
Ibrahim was convicted (and immediately pardoned) of the crime of murder, after he shot a man to death in a local nightclub in the eighties, when he was still Tunku. At around the same time, he was also accused of assaulting a certain Rahim Mohd Nor, who described his experience as “an act of sadism” on the part of Ibrahim.
In March 2005, Ibrahim was again accused of assaulting a young woman by the name of Yasmin whom he had suspected of two-timing him with a policeman. In June of that year, the Malaysian press reported that Tunku Ibrahim had accumulated RM26,700 worth of unpaid traffic fines since 2000, which the embarrassed crown prince later settled.
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Aquino or any of his many spokesmen should reply to the allegations made by the Sulu princess because she is suggesting that the President has sold out his own country, listening only to a ruler of a foreign state that is killing Philippine citizens. No wonder the Department of Foreign Affairs, which should be on top of the Sabah crisis, has been relegated to writing note verbales that Malaysia routinely ignores and to accepting responsibility for “losing” the Sultan’s letters to Aquino.
These are serious charges. Noynoy must reply to them.