The lies that bind us
At the height of the running gunbattle between the Malaysian forces and the so-called “Royal Army” (which in a few days became the “Royal Security Forces,” but which Malaysia labeled simply as “the intruders”), there was one, among the dispatches we received from our ground sources, that I thought struck at the very core of the senselessness of it all. “Both sides are lying, their statements in their press conferences are mostly lies,” the messenger sounded quite exasperated. He was referring to Jamalul Kiram III and his spokespersons, and to the Malaysian officials.
And now even the Inquirer, which is the country’s No. 1 broadsheet mainly because of its credibility, has been condemned by Malaysia as a “liar,” at the same time casting doubt on the rest of “Philippine media” as equally irresponsible. This appears to be part of the propaganda thrust of “Operation Daulat,” the code name of the massive ground and air offensive against Agbimuddin Kiram, younger brother of Jamalul, and the over 200 mostly armed men who landed in Sabah last February, ostensibly to settle in what they claimed was land that belonged to them, the Kiram royal family.
That story has been torn to shreds many times over and, if there was anyone who believed it, it was only the Philippine media who, in good faith, never suspected they were being taken for a ride on a slow boat to North Borneo.
The bad news is, the Malaysian officials knew what it was all about from the beginning, or as soon as they knew who were behind it. They only had to look up their police and military records for confirmation. And so “Operation Daulat.”
As of this writing, over 5,000 refugees have been reported by local authorities to have fled Sabah because of the fighting and what has been termed a “crackdown” on Tausug there, regardless of whether they are long-time residents, legal or illegal. The village of Tanduao has been emptied of its mostly Tausug residents and will be permanently closed.
A humiliating twist in this story of forcible evacuation of residents is their having been robbed by the Kiram gunmen who looted their homes at gunpoint and carted away newly purchased appliances and other valuables. At this point, one wonders to what depths of ignominy the Tausug, the Bangsa Sug in general, the Sultanate of Sulu, and even the Republic of the Philippines to which Jamalul has declared his allegiance, will be dragged into by his infamous 200 who have now been reduced to the level of common criminals.
But of course all this, for which so many lives have been lost and so much destruction has been wrought, was, as it will come to light in due time, deliberately built on a framework of lies.
As it has always done so, from Caligula to Cromwell, the truth has a way of coming out in the end.
In the so-called Mindanao conflict that flared up in the 1970s, over 160,000 mostly civilian lives were lost. An undetermined number were killed by the military on mere suspicion of being sympathizers of the Moro National Liberation Front. The whole town of Jolo, which was the most devastated, almost disappeared from the face of the earth, and a whole community disappeared from it, never to return.
For over two decades now, Sulu has been the breeding ground of the Abu Sayyaf, which has made the province’s countryside a no-man’s land even for the Tausug themselves, in turn making “warlords” out of those who have to defend their power and their turf.
And it is only now that the Bangsa Sug are slowly realizing the painful and shameful truth that Malaysia had known all along: It was all because of Sabah, from the beginning.
But if they will try to go back in time, as some already have, they will discover that this “sorry scheme of things” is just a progression of self-destruction that began from the decline of the once powerful and once “glorious” sultanate. And yet the very unfortunate fact is, they have not learned their lesson.
Now that the prospect of reclaiming North Borneo is again on the horizon, the so-called heirs of the sultanate have materialized like ghosts from the Arabian Nights, drawing out their genealogies to validate their claims of legitimacy.
I have not overheard anybody talking about reestablishing the dormant sultanate (it has never died in the hearts of the Bangsa Sug) on the foundation that gave rise to it in the first place—Islamic governance which, contrary to colonial thinking, is workable in the 21st century.
In a reading of the turmoil that has resulted in the almost unstoppable carnage in some countries in the Middle East, it can be seen, even to the naked eye, that at the root of all this is the failure of their leaders to reconfigure Islamic governance in order to align it with a rapidly changing world, a change that has been accelerated in giant leaps by human knowledge and technology.
As it is with Islamic countries, so it was with the Sultanate of Sulu, which declined with the advent of Western colonization.
It is now up to the Bangsa Sug and their leaders, and in particular, those who claim royal lineage, to stop dreaming about reclaiming North Borneo. It belongs, and will always belong to the Sultanate of Sulu.
There is no question about that. But where is the Sultanate of Sulu? That is the question.
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