Kris-Crossing Mindanao

What a bloody tangled web

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Well, whoever planned this catastrophic mess that is benignly called “Sabah standoff,” if indeed it is a conspiracy, must now be laughing his diabolic head off.

An undetermined number of noncombatants have been killed, beaten, jailed and maltreated; lives and livelihoods have been wrecked; several boatloads of refugees have fled to nearby Philippine islands and Zamboanga City, most of them setting foot on these places for the first time in their lives; and local government units and line agencies are straining to do the almost impossible with their limited resources as more boatloads are expected.

All the while the rest of us are reeling from trying to make sense of the incomprehensible—the conflicting statements from both sides, the illogical reasoning and barefaced lies; the accusations and counteraccusations; the finger-pointing and the overplayed blame game, while corpses of our unfortunate countrymen are decomposing all over the palm plantations of the “Red Zone” in Lahad Datu, Sabah.

Yet there is no relief from the bizarre. A Navy ship carrying refugees is asked to stay in the waters for four hours just to time its arrival in Tawi-Tawi for the photo ops of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. And Jacel Kiram, barred by some “elders” from further speaking before media, has turned up on Twitter and Facebook, although it is difficult to believe she is the loose cannon posting the comments because they are so badly-written; a high schooler would have a better grasp of grammar and syntax.

But bad grammar in such inflammatory statements is just as disastrous and certain to wreak more irreparable damage in an already chaotic situation that her uncle Esmail Kiram sought to resolve by proposing a “disengagement” (which many interpreted as a face-saving euphemism for “surrender”) in the hostilities between the “royal” forces and the Malaysian military and police forces—a proposal that her father promptly disowned.

Soon after the armed men landed on the shores of North Borneo (Sabah), Nur Misuari declared that elements of the Moro National Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf were part of the “royal army” that had been training in Tawi-Tawi “since last year.” And in the first few days of the fighting, we received reports that four corpses of Malaysian police had been found and they were mutilated in a so “savage” (a source used the term) fashion that so enraged the authorities who launched a campaign of retaliation from which there is no hope of relief.

Now comes the Jacel Kiram in Facebook blaming the Malaysians for training the MNLF in the fine art of mutilation.

But that is not the only reason that the Tausug in Sabah have become the tragic victims of retaliation.

The title of “Sultan of Sulu” that Jamalul Kiram III carries—and which media have consistently and continuously used in referring to him—has its own dire implications. This, coupled with his own insistence that he is acting on behalf of the Sultanate of Sulu, has made all Tausug, who are the  raayat  (citizens) of the sultanate, enemies of Malaysia.

Nonetheless, media cannot be blamed for taking the word of a “sultan” in good faith. It could not occur to them that no Sulu Sultan in his right mind would declare himself a Filipino, much less a Filipino citizen, and certainly much, much less that he is fighting to reclaim Sabah “for the Philippines.”

To the Bangsa Sug, it would be treason of the basest order.

And deliberately deceived as they were, none in the media noticed the deafening silence of the royal houses and the royal datus of Sulu amid the din of the mind-boggling developments these past weeks.

Not even a truly royal princess, Dayang Dayang Taj Mahal Tarsum Kiram, granddaughter of Princess Tarhata Kiram, who lives right here in Metro Manila (she also has a beachfront residence in the ancestral property in Jolo that serves as her  astanah,  or palace, when she visits), has called a press conference to say her piece. And believe me, she has a lot to say. But her grandmother had mentored her, since childhood, on the ways of nobility and the meaning of “martabat,” the guiding principle of Bangsa Sug royalty.

Or maybe she could just have been stunned to silence by the sight of Cecilia Kiram, a convert to Islam and mother of Jacel, presiding over press conferences and being addressed as “Pangian,” a title that only a royal princess married to a reigning sultan could assume.

So mind-boggling indeed, that even media hardly noticed the most sensible voice that came out of the utter senselessness of it all, and from a most unexpected source, a Malaysian official. Datuk Ahmad Maslan, a deputy minister in the prime minister’s department, urged media to stop calling Jamalul Kiram III a sultan, and his followers a “royal army.”  The name Kiram was enclosed in quotation marks.

“Stop referring to that terrorist group as the royal army,” Maslan was quoted by the Malaysia State News Agency Bernama as saying, and that “it is also inappropriate to link the Sulu community in Sabah with this group.

“Evil has nothing to do with the race. One can be evil because of greed, power-greedy, with shallow religious faith and possess animalistic character,” Maslan added.

And while this evil was wreaking havoc among the members of the “Sulu community” in Sabah, President Aquino remained so blissfully clueless because he was busy campaigning for his Liberal Party senatorial candidates; and a Navy ship carrying tired, hungry, traumatized and terrified refugees was asked to wait—for four hours off the Sulu Sea—for Secretary Roxas’ arrival at the port they were bound to, before docking.

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