The die is cast.
As of this writing, the situationers we at the Inquirer have been receiving from the ground since Saturday indicate nothing less than very bloody developments.
Our efforts to get at the facts have not been easy. Communication lines have either been blocked, jammed, garbled or simply cut off. We tried—are still trying—to get the stories, however wrought with risks the undertaking is for our ground sources. There is an ongoing house-to-house search for communication gadgets that may be used to transmit information outside.
But with the same creativity we learned while we were clandestinely covering in Sulu the “all-out war” of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001 against the Abu Sayyaf, and a news blackout was imposed, all communication lines were disabled, all modes of transportation suspended, with the same creativity we acquired, we hope to get through.
The full implications of this chapter in the history of this country and the Sultanate of Sulu and its raayat (citizens) cannot yet, at this point, be fully comprehended much less predicted. All that can be said of this very unfortunate episode in the saga of the sultanate is that whoever wins in this catastrophic encounter will find it a Pyrrhic victory.
And the losers? As always, the noncombatants—they who are made the usual hostages, human shields, bargaining chip, leverage, collateral damage and victims of retaliation.
However this turns out, expect boatloads of “halaw” or deportees, all with their own stories of beatings, torture and humiliation, the very same scenario that followed the arrest of Nur Misuari and some followers on the order of then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, when they tried to land in Sabah.
This was after Misuari’s forces attacked the military headquarters, Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo, causing the death of over 100 civilians and the destruction of their homes beside the camp, which prompted Mahathir to remark in exasperation: “Why is it whenever Misuari makes trouble in his country, he comes here?”
And so it was very unfortunate that Misuari appeared on TV confirming that Moro National Liberation Front fighters “and some Abu Sayyaf allies” were part of the “royal army” that went to Sabah, and in addition, quite fatal to the whole situation, he also said that he owned North Borneo because it was given to him and his “clan.” The supreme irony here is that it was Malaysia that welcomed, gave protection to, trained and armed Misuari and his group of young rebels; also, it was in Malaysia that the MNLF was formed.
Indeed, what goes around comes around.
And, like an avenging ghost of blunders past, it too has come full circle for President Aquino whose mother, President Corazon Aquino became not just the heroine of Edsa I, but more so its avenging angel. All of the enemies of her enemy, the ousted President Ferdinand Marcos, became Cory’s friends; but to the enemies of the people, they who enforced martial law and made life hell for the citizens of this country, she said: “Welcome home, my soldiers.”
It was in this very vulnerable period of Tita Cory’s presidency that Iago, in the form of Norberto Gonzales, whispered in her ear that it was Ninoy Aquino’s wish that Misuari be absolved of all charges of insurgency and culpability for the death of hundreds of thousands who perished in the so-called Mindanao conflict; and allowed to come home, like the soldiers, like Jose Ma. Sison and all the rest.
These facts, I believe, were the basis of speculations about certain unseen masterminds manipulating this present tragedy.
But the real tragedy here is that we have been so distracted by all the speculations, the half-truths, the performances of the different dramatis personae, the entry of the villain, the clowns and choirs, that certain very basic facts got forgotten or were deliberately ignored amid all the sound and fury signifying nothing but greed.
First, the Sultanate of Sulu is an institution, and refers not only to a royal family but to all the raayat claiming allegiance to it. Before the sultanate’s territorial jurisdiction was slowly and systematically robbed, its territory encompassed the provinces of Sulu (which included Tawi-Tawi); Basilan (including the island of Banguingui); Zamboanga (the entire peninsula); Palawan and North Borneo, represented by the five stars in its flag.
All of these provinces have their own royal houses, with their own tarsila or genealogies to prove their legitimacy. The inhabitants, Tausug, Samal Tawi-Tawi, Banguingui (Balangingi), Yakan, Samal Badjao and Jama Mapun are the sultanate’s constituents.
Without each and every grouping, there could not have been a Sultanate of Sulu, much less could it have attained its power and glory.
The Tausug, the Yakan and the Bangingi were the swordsmen who excelled in close encounters of the fatal kind; some were food providers—
farmers and cattle ranchers; the Samal and the Bangingi were the boat-makers, rowers, fishers and pearl divers and they manned the famous (and notorious) Sulu naval fleet.
So who owns North Borneo? All of the above. It would have been impossible for the Sultan of
Sulu to help the Sultan of Brunei win in the latter’s territorial dispute without the Samal masters of the sea and the brave Tausug fighters. Over a hundred Tausug and Samal and Bangingi youth perished in the battle.
The Sultan of Brunei “gave” the North Borneo territory to the Sultan of Sulu as the monarch and representative of the Sultanate of Sulu, not as an individual.
And what does “in perpetuity” concerning negotiated contracts mean in international law? The lease agreement on North Borneo was signed and sealed in 1878, or 135 years ago this year.
Shouldn’t it have expired already?
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