Saturday, September 22, 2018
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Get Real

Remember Sabah

NOT TO be a party-pooper, but something sticks in my craw and raises my hackles when Malaysia is mentioned by Filipinos in such glowing terms—and the remarks of Pres. Benigno Aquino III were no exception.

At the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro two days ago, he said, “And of course, the Filipino people will forever be indebted to Malaysia, [applause] whose presence illuminated every step of the peace process. We have the leadership of His Excellency, Prime Minister Najib Razak, to thank for this. The role that Malaysia played in forging this agreement is especially significant, given that the Bangsamoro forms the nexus of bloodlines that links Malaysia and the Philippines. And as we looked to the shared history of the Malay people for kinship and inspiration, so, too, will we forge a future of shared stability, prosperity, and inclusiveness through our bonds of shared success.”


By the way, in praising Malaysia’s role, Aquino is in a sense also praising former president Gloria Arroyo, who, according to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front secretariat, was the one who had asked Malaysia to act as facilitator for the peace negotiations during her first official foreign trip to Malaysia (and her first, as Philippine president). I wonder if he is aware of this piece of irony, since it is so obvious that he dislikes his immediate predecessor with a passion.

The only portion of the quote that I agree with, because it is factual, is that bloodlines are shared between the Bangsamoro and Malaysia. But we seem to be forgetting the complaints that were aired in the press about Malaysia’s facilitator (not the present one) and his discriminating, arrogant ways. How quickly our memories fade.

This fulsome praise for Malaysia seems to sweep under a convenient rug how badly Malaysia has treated, and is even now continuing to treat, our overseas Filipino workers who live and work there. How it stole Sabah, with the help of the British government, from the Sultan of Sulu. How it kept Philippine observers and the United Nations out during the “referendum” recommended by the UN. And how it was instrumental in starting the unrest in Mindanao by helping create and giving sanctuary to the Moro National Liberation Front (the first MNLF training camps were in Malaysia).

The horrible treatment of the OFWs we used to read about very often—but it happens so frequently that it is no longer newsworthy, it seems, or is tucked practically out of sight.

The information on the whole Sabah issue is available in the archives of the University of the Philippines’ Main Library. The Department of Foreign Affairs should provide the Filipino people with a brief about it, including the speeches of Salvador Lopez in the UN, and the papers of Jovito Salonga detailing a history of the perfidy of Britain (this columnist wrote briefly about them on various occasions). With respect to its role in the MNLF, the late Sultan of Sulu made the charge in a letter to Aquino.

It is also ironic that it was Arroyo who had sought Malaysia’s help, because it was her father, President Diosdado Macapagal, who first realized that the Philippines was being cheated out of Sabah and started the ball rolling to get it back. Ferdinand Marcos dropped that ball badly (the Jabidah massacre), and none of our succeeding presidents picked it up again, or if they did, the effort was hardly noticeable.

It may be too late to do anything about it, but just to remind ourselves what we lost, thanks to Britain’s perfidy, Malaysia’s greed, and the Philippines’ colossal case of ADD (attention deficit disorder): Sabah in 1970 was considered the second richest state in Malaysia (it is now the poorest, probably because of Malaysian neglect—it is the farthest state from the capital). It is a little less than one-fourth of the Philippines in area. It is rich in oil (especially foreshore, the Sabah basin is one of Malaysia’s three producing basins) and natural resources.

I bring this up because we are now facing a similar problem, except that the stakes may be much higher. I refer to our “dispute” with China with respect to the ownership of various “shoals” and “reefs” with different names (the Philippine names are different from the Chinese names, and both may even be different from the world’s nomenclature). It is all very confusing, and the Filipino public may think it is much ado over nothing, and behave accordingly.

It is comforting to know that in this dispute with China, the Philippine government seems to be totally aware of the stakes. But the Filipino people, with a few exceptions, don’t seem to know, or care. In his last State of the Nation Address, Aquino alluded to Recto Reef/Bank, saying something to the effect that if it were claimed by others, he would treat the claim exactly as if the outsiders were claiming Recto Avenue. It may have gotten a few laughs, but I missed it completely—and I go over his Sonas with a fine-toothed comb. I wonder how many others missed this point. And unless we keep ourselves informed and express support for the government’s moves on the issue, we will be at the losing end again.


What is so important about Recto Bank, which is off Palawan? According to Roilo Golez, quoting from the US Energy Information Administration, it could hold up to 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—TWENTY times the 2.7 trillion cubic feet of reserves in Malampaya, which is scheduled to run out by 2024. This aside from 5.4 billion barrels of oil. A government official told me the proven reserves of Recto Bank were worth $23 billion.

That’s what the Chinese really want. Shall we let them have it?

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TAGS: Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Diplomacy, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Malaysia, Najib Razak, Pres. Benigno Aquino III, Sabah, Sultanate of Sulu, territorial row
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