We pay for forgetting | Inquirer Opinion

We pay for forgetting

The noisy Filipino went at it again. All the commentators, from traditional media to social media, could simply not help themselves. We had to bash ourselves again, maybe because the rest of the world had nothing but good to say about us. When people have gotten used to being failures, they do not know what to do with success.

Democracy guarantees the freedom of speech, even the kind that does not help rebuild our broken self-image from decades of decline. The memory of a brutal dictatorship or presidents who plundered must have become so much of our inner context that we miss them when they are not there. It matters little that we went to the streets to be rid of them because they had been our furniture for so long. And their children can pervert the historical truth because we easily forget and do not teach our own children to remember the evil wrought on a whole people.


I saw two TV shows from competing channels a few nights ago. One talk show host was her usual stern self, recounting the deception of Great Britain and Malaysia, then hitting the administration for its conduct during the Sabah adventurism of a pretender to the Sultanate. The only good thing about the show is that, for once since Sabah was ceded to the Sultanate of Sulu by the Sultan of Brunei more than 300 years ago, for once since Sabah was leased in a private transaction by the Sultanate of Sulu to a British trading firm more than 120 years ago, the present general public was given a brief history about Sabah over mass media.

How many can possibly remember about what happened in 1963 when the Sultanate asked the Philippine government for help in recovering Sabah? Sabah is more known as a name in a map more than as a Philippine territory, before or after 1963? Of course, how can Filipinos, outside of the Sultanate, be emotionally attached to a land that they never knew was theirs, a land they had never been to, a land they had never benefited from? A stupid, trying-hard-to-be provocateur said in one post in Facebook that Sabah is taught in grade school and that the Aquino administration should have known better. What grade school did he go to – in Sabah?


In the other channel, a former security adviser was being interviewed. He said a mouthful that meant little altogether – except for one simple but most important statement. He said that the Filipino people do not know about Sabah as they do not know about Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys. And here lies the truth, the painful truth, the dangerous truth. Our people have not been told the truth, the historical truth. Because of that, unless we are attacked as Spain, America and Japan attacked us, we do not fight to protect what belongs to us collectively. And that is why Filipinos will not fight for Sabah.

Before a Filipino fights for Sabah, he or she will have to go to Sulu, Basilan or Tawi-Tawi. How many who are not from these areas go there, or have gone there in their lifetime? The answer gives us an estimate of how many will be willing to fight for Sabah. Filipinos who truly want to help the Tausugs would have been in Tausug provinces already. Those who are afraid of going there do not – and the overwhelming majority has not, including the most noisy from social media.

We are in a democracy. No matter how inefficient that may be in its application, democracy is the style of governance that we have chosen. Marcos forced martial law on us and we removed him because we wanted our freedom back. Estrada was seen as corrupt and we went to the streets to remove him. Gloria was seen as corrupt so we elected a new president who would prosecute her. That is democracy. We do not send armed contingents to another country even if we have a claim on it because that invites a severe raise-back – and it has. Many wrongs do not make a right, and nations will apply the kind of laws they have to serve their interests.

That there are reports of indiscriminate abuse on non-combatants that are Filipino should alarm us. Another wrong makes the mess even more complicated to resolve. Our government is protesting and must protest even more vigorously when evidence proves the reports as true. It is not about a claim when we protest these abuses, it is about the law that we go by as nations, whether we are Malaysia or the Philippines. Malaysia, too, will have to face the consequences of the wrong it commits.

There is one great benefit, though, that is being born from the current controversy. Going to Sabah in such a dramatic and radical manner has raised the consciousness of many Filipinos to parts of their own history. Any movement towards the historical truth is a blessing and will enlighten the blindness of a people long denied important components of Philippine history.

Losing Sabah is not the fault of the Philippine government. It never had Sabah to lose in the first place. The Kirams should examine their own history and ask themselves how in the world did they lose what they believe to be theirs. Ownership demands responsibility, too. There was no force used to get Sabah, but maybe there was negligence. If the Kirams never waged war to get Sabah and they say it was theirs since the early 1700’s, why should Filipinos be dragged to conflict with Malaysia?

The Sultanate and all its pretenders should agree on one story, tell this to the Filipino people, then hope that the people will embrace both history and Sabah. Only when that has become important to the people will Filipinos lend their active support to the Sabah claim. It does not help that the daughter of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III was quoted in a newspaper report that she does not want to be Filipino with the kind of leaders we have.  She should renounce her being Filipino. It is easier to do that than recover Sabah.

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TAGS: Britain, democracy, Foreign affairs, Malaysia, Philippines, Sabah Dispute
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