Late last week, Nur Misuari took P-Noy to task for apparently mishandling the Sabah crisis.
“What he has done is very bad. It is unbecoming of a head of state to be siding with the enemy of his own people. For what reason is he aligning this country with Malaysia, a colonial power occupying the land of our people? I am against that, totally against that with all my soul. I hope the President will be properly advised. I hope he will recant. Otherwise we won’t forgive him. And there is even an attempt to arrest the sultan. (If they) do that, the country will be in total chaos, I promise you.”
Fighting words? No, merely pathetic ones. Merely deluded ones. As pathetic and deluded as the Kirams’ attempt to “reclaim” Sabah itself.
Who is Nur Misuari? He is the one person who for decades led a struggle for the Muslim people of the Philippine south to be free. He is the one person who for decades affirmed the right of the Muslim people to self-determination. Which he attained in part with the grant of autonomy to the same Muslim Mindanao, an arrangement that gave him exceptional privileges he later forgot or abandoned—at least in the eyes of his fellow fighters, who later became the Moro Islamic Liberation Front—the very spirit of struggle.
What is Sabah? Sabah is a huge piece of territory that once belonged to the Sultanate of Sulu by right of cession: It was given to it by the Sultanate of Brunei for services, or favors, rendered. For more than a century, the Sultanate of Sulu had nothing to do with it other than to receive nominal, or indeed token, rent from a British company. Meanwhile, over that period, the people of Sabah themselves, not unlike Misuari, waged a struggle for independence against the British. Over the same period, the people of Sabah themselves, which included Muslims—of which the Tausug are just a part—non-Muslims and Christians, strove to assert their right to determine their future, to carve their fate.
They achieved that in 1963 when they gained self-rule. Later, they decided as a sovereign people to join the Federation of Malaya.
What is the Kiram enterprise? It is an effort to free a people that are already free. It is an effort to impose sovereignty over a people that are already sovereign. It is an effort to void the history of struggle a people have waged by claiming an ancient, barely exercised, and thoroughly whimsical right of ownership over it.
If Spain decided one fine day to reclaim the Philippines by right of conquest, overlooking the fact that it had already been colonized variously by the United States and the Japanese, indeed overlooking the fact that it had already become independent, it could not be more ridiculous. If a contingent of Spanish forces occupied a part of the Philippines demanding that its ancient rights over it be recognized, demanding completely seriously that the Philippine government sit down with it to discuss terms, it had come however armed in the spirit of peace and amicableness, it could not be more unhinged.
Yet this is the thing Nur Misuari, the freedom fighter, supports. This is the thing Nur Misuari, the self-styled father of a people who have long proclaimed being orphans from him, champions. Which has stoked him to fury, calling Malaysia, which Sabah sees itself as belonging to, a colonial power; and not calling his favorite Tausug in Sulu, or in Manila, so, though armed only with colonial ambitions if not the power to prosecute it. Which has stoked him to fury, accusing his president of siding with the enemy and not himself of siding with stupidity.
Do I feel for the loss of lives of the Kiram followers in Sabah? Yes. As of last count—though that depends on the ones doing the counting—a score or so of them have already died, from bombings and exchange of fire. Misuari is right at least in one respect: They are Filipinos too, and our hearts naturally go to them. Do I feel furious at the deaths of the Kiram followers in Sabah? Yes, but only at those who brought them to this pass, only at those who led them to this slaughter. Do I sympathize with the cause that brought them to their deaths? Not one bit.
This is what makes the Kiram enterprise doubly tragic. If its cause was at least noble, their deaths would somehow be justified, their deaths would somehow be heroic. You would at least recall the scene from “The Last Samurai” where the handful of defenders, imagining themselves not unlike Leonidas’ 300, took a last stand, their laughter echoing in the wind. You would at least think of Che Guevara braving the wilds of Bolivia exporting his revolution to the arguably un-free and un-self-determined peasants there.
This is nothing of the kind. This is not heroic, this is just miserable. It has no lofty intent, it has no noble aspiration, it has no grand ambition. It even has no sense. This is not a choice between the Philippines and Malaysia, this is not a choice between Filipinos and Malaysians. This is merely a choice between the people of Sabah and the Kirams, between true sovereignty and fickle colonial claims (oh yes, a grant by another sultanate is no more or less a colonial claim than colonial occupation), between sanity and madness.
Who the hell cares if Musuari forgives anyone or not? Who the hell cares if Misuari promises a conflagration or not? The time when it would have mattered whether he forgave someone or not, like the time when it would have mattered whether the Kirams forgot Sabah or not, is long past. The time when his promises would have mattered, like the time when the Kirams’ claims would have mattered, is long gone. In their place merely loom like apparitions the faces of the dead in Sabah.
And a horrendous oppression: Such utter, utter waste.