There’s the Rub



Before the bloodbath happened last Friday, Jamalul Kiram was lambasting government for its indifference, if not hostility, to his cause. Indeed for perfidiously siding with Malaysia over them, fellow Filipinos.

“Is Mar Roxas now the spokesperson for Malaysia?” he demanded to know. “He claims that Malaysia will not talk to us. Is it hard for the Philippines and Malaysia to sit down and talk to us and settle this amicably?”

He felt insulted, he said, by Leila de Lima’s suggestion that he could be swayed. “I, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, pledge to our holy Quara’n that this aspiration to fight for what is rightfully ours, legally and historically, is a unilateral act of the Sultanate of Sulu…. Please do not insult the sacrifice of the Sultanate of Sulu by saying we can be swayed.”

As to P-Noy himself calling his group’s incursion into Sabah foolhardy, he fumed: “Why are you calling it foolhardy? Is it foolhardy to defend the patrimony of your nation? Is it foolhardy to fight for what is right? Is it foolhardy to sacrifice the lives of 235 people for the sake of the truth?”

Well, arguably Roxas is wrong to imagine he is God’s gift to this world rather than punishment to mankind, but the delusions in this case are more of Kiram’s than anybody else’s.

Is it the hardest thing in the world for the Philippines and Malaysia to sit down and talk to them and settle their claim to Sabah amicably? But of course it is. It is not just the hardest thing in the world, it is the most impossible thing in the world.

You land in Sabah with 235 armed men—enough to engage the Malaysian security forces in a firefight, sending two of them into the afterlife—and you hope with that belligerent act to be able to sit down with anyone and talk things over? You materialize from out of nowhere like pirates to (en)force a claim that has gotten you nowhere since the postwar postcolonial world through a succession of Philippine presidents, and you hope with that belligerent act to be able to settle things amicably?

Why on earth shouldn’t the Department of Justice want to look into those groups that have given the Kirams financial and moral support? People who are in dire need of financial and moral support—which the Kirams are—are vulnerable to being swayed whether they like it or not, whether they believe it or not. Of course they may never be swayed from their belief that Sabah is theirs, they may never be swayed from their dreams of reclaiming Sabah one day, but they can always be swayed in other things. They can be swayed into actually making a bid for it—people who have no money can only dream forever. They can be swayed into carrying it out now rather than later, right when government is in the middle of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is being opposed by the Moro National Liberation Front.

And why on earth shouldn’t P-Noy call the Kiram group’s incursion into Sabah foolhardy and threaten to throw the book at those responsible for it? It  is  foolhardy. It is infinitely more foolhardy or futile or suicidal than the Oakwood mutiny.

Kiram’s justification for his act is that it was done in desperation, he had been sending his lamentations to Malacañang and it had been deaf to his entreaties. Well, if everyone is justified in embarking on violent acts like this—never mind provoking an international crisis, never mind stoking war with another country—because their pet projects do not get the attention they imagine they deserve, we might as well stop pretending to be a country. Hell, we might as well stop pretending to be sane.

Which brings us to what’s incredibly cheeky about these accusations. That is their premise that the incursion into Sabah advances this country’s interests, and therefore any attempt by government or the citizens to criticize it, or not support it, or bid it stop is anti-Filipino and/or pro-Malaysian. Can anything be battier?

At the very least, why should the Kiram group naturally represent the Philippines? They are not making their claim on Sabah on behalf of the Philippine government, they are making it on behalf of the Sultanate of Sulu. They are making it on the basis of colonial arrangements they made with Britain and the United States, which makes them a political entity in themselves. It compels not just the Malaysian government but the Philippine government to recognize them as so.

And if they ever get to get Sabah, what then? Will they have the right to tax its people, or more in keeping with the atavistic resonances of “sultanate,” levy tribute on their subjects? More to the point, if they ever get to get Sabah, will they have the right to negotiate with other countries, such as by allowing the United States to build bases in some part of it?

No, there is nothing there that naturally advances the Filipino interest.

At the very most, there is everything there that goes against the Filipino interest. What they have done has just imperiled the peace talks with the MILF, the single biggest boon to Filipino Christians and Muslims alike—in a long time, promising as it does to end a centuries-old fratricidal war. What they have done has just imperiled the chances of the Philippine government and the MILF to be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize for the history-making thing they have done. What they have done has just imperiled the 325,000 or so Filipinos in Sabah who now fear a backlash from the Malaysian government. What they have done has just imperiled the Philippine position on the Spratlys, giving the Chinese no small amount of ammunition to charge us with territorial delusions and ambitions. What they have done has just imperiled the country’s renewed standing in the world after the dark night of the first decade of the new millennium.

Being pissed off with that is anti-Filipino?

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Tags: Foreign affairs , Global Nation , international relations , Malaysia , Philippines , sabah standoff

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