A strange thing happened a few days ago. Nur Misuari came out in media blasting President Aquino, gave the President unsolicited advice, and then accused him of siding with Malaysia against Filipinos. I kept reading the news (thankfully, I missed the bizarre scene on TV) and wondered how history is so easily forgotten. And I am not talking only about Sabah.
From 1704 to 1962, Sabah was neither here nor there. From the Sultan of Brunei, Sabah was given to the Sultanate of Sulu. I am not a historian with a wealth of information, but the fact remains that there were no official historical details ever taught in school about Sabah as being part of the Philippines from 1704 to 1962. In fact, because of the drama that is occurring in Sabah now, most Filipinos are learning for the first time about Sabah and a claim that has been comatose for decades.
The dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, promised to renounce the Philippine claim over Sabah in 1977. Since then, there have been no significant news about that claim. Assuming that Filipinos 10 years and below in 1977 did not know of our Sabah claims, and could not care one way or the other, then Filipinos 46 years old and below remain unaware or uninformed. Among senior citizens like myself, Sabah was non-existent from our history subjects in Grade and High School. A vast majority of Filipinos, then, never knew, or never taught enough about, Sabah. How, then, does a Filipino find kinship with what he or she does not know and cannot care about?
But more Filipinos know about the war between the military and the MNLF led by Nur Misuari, and for millions of them, it remains an intimate experience. I speak of the people of Mindanao and their relatives and friends beyond Mindanao. The brutal war killed more than one hundred thousand (Wikipedia says 160,000), displaced millions, and for what?
Yes, the Jabidah massacre is largely credited as a main trigger for the 1970’s war in Mindanao. But it had Sabah undertones, as the Jabidah massacre was all about Sabah and the Marcos plan to create chaos there. Tausugs were trained secretly by the military without knowing what the reason was, until such time that it had to be revealed, or the trainees found out for themselves, that the target was Sabah, that the mission was to destabilize. The trainees balked. They knew that there were many Tausugs in Sabah and that these Tausugs did not seek war. If the general sentiment among Tausugs in Sabah at that time was for rebellion against Malaysia, the Tausug trainees would have only been too happy to provoke revolution. And only a few years back then, in the early 1960’s, residents of Sabah voted in a referendum to have Sabah as part of Malaysia and not as part of the Philippines.
Because of the Jabidah massacre as a key reason, Misuari went to war against the Philippine government. That war had significant messages. One side, the MNLF and Misuari side, said that they were not part of the Philippines. That was the screeching rhetoric of the MNLF and Misuari forces. That was why it was not a rebellion but a secession – because the MNLF and Misuari forces said they were not part of the Philippines – and that Mindanao was theirs. The other side, the Philippine government, said Mindanao belongs to Filipinos and the Philippines. The government told the MNLF and Misuari that it will not allow the dismemberment of the republic, and would defend the integrity of the Philippine territory against any armed attempt to dismember it.
The MNLF and Misuari accepted Malaysian support to fight the Philippine government and the Filipino people. Before the MNLF of Misuari, and all Muslims who gave their sympathy and support to them, could think of waging war against Malaysia over Sabah, they waged war against Filipinos and the Philippine government. It was in their psyche and sentiments to fight against the Philippines and accept sympathy and support from Malaysia, not the other way around. That is why Misuari sounds seriously out of tune when he accuses P-Noy of siding with Malaysia.
Misuari did relent to a peace accord, maybe less to Marcos and the Philippines but to the Arab nations who helped broker the cessation of hostilities. I believe one such nation was Malaysia. And I believe that Marcos, to get the peace, promised publicly to renounce the Philippine claim to Sabah. I was told that a document from the Foreign Affairs at that time to formalize what Marcos announced was executed but admited he did not have a copy of it. If there was none, then I would just credit it to another broken promise of Marcos. Bongbong Marcos must be more mindful of history before opening his mouth about P-Noy siding with the Malaysians when his father was the first to renounce the Sabah claim.
I have personal sympathy for the claim, largely because a friend and patriot, Pastor “Boy” Saycon, was the one responsible for relating to me the beautiful story of the Sultanate of Sulu that stood proud, independent and victorious while Filipinos in 7,000 islands were in subjugation to Spain, Great Britain, America and Japan effectively up to 1946. I never met Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, but leaned towards believing he is the rightful heir to the Sultanate – again because Boy Saycon, with more information than I, also believed so.
However, I have greater concern for the Filipino people as a whole. If the Sultanate of Sulu wants P-Noy to support the claim to Sabah, against whatever odds, then the Filipino people, in the majority, must be the ones to demand it. Those who are passionately for the recovery of Sabah must first sell the idea to the majority of the Filipino people. Before anything, Filipinos must decide what they know is theirs, what they feel is theirs, and what they will die for because it is theirs. The Sultanate, if it believes it speaks for the Filipino people, before going for Sabah, should go for the hearts and minds of the Filipino people.