No deal on Sabah issue, gov’t panel says
The issue of Sabah was not discussed during the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with Malaysia as referee. This was the assurance given by members of the government panel to journalists at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday. The panel members at the Kapihan were chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and members Senen Bacani (a former agriculture secretary) and Yasmin Busran Lao.
Also present at the forum were former ambassador Macabangkit Lanto, military spokesperson Gen. Domingo Tutaan, and lawyer Manuel Sanchez, president of Home Guaranty Corp. who explained his role, or lack of it, in the P16-billion losses of the HGC, which I will discuss later.
There was fear among Filipinos that in exchange for being the facilitator of the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, may have been promised the dropping of the Philippine claim to Sabah. But there was no such deal, the government panel members said.
Parenthetically, law professor Alan Paguia said in another forum last Saturday that the Philippines is not claiming Sabah. “We already own it,” he said. “It is Malaysia that is claiming it. But it is only a tenant that has stopped paying rent for the island but also refuses to leave.” Malaysia is now nothing more than a squatter on Sabah.
As I see it, we have stronger and clearer rights to Sabah than to the shoals in the West Philippine Sea that are being claimed by China. But while we have filed a memorandum in the United Nations arbitration court on our territorial dispute with China, we have not done the same thing on our dispute with Malaysia over Sabah.
Bigger than Luzon and rich in oil and timber resources, with an annual income of $70 billion, Sabah is populated mostly by Filipinos from Sulu. It is only a short boat ride away from Sulu, and people travel back and forth to trade and to work. It is owned by the Sulu Sultanate, was leased by the British North Borneo Co. in the 18th century, but was annexed by Malaysia when it gained independence from Britain.
Until recently, Malaysia had been paying rent to the Sultan of Sulu.
What will happen to Sabah? What will the Bangsamoro government, the fruit of the Comprehensive Agreement signed by the government and the MILF, do to assert ownership of Sabah? Will it offend Malaysia, its principal sponsor, by raising the issue?
Coronel-Ferrer replied that the Sulu Sultanate can pursue its ownership rights. But the sultanate is like an ant before an elephant like Malaysia. That is why it transferred to the Philippine government the right to assert ownership of Sabah. But the Philippine government has done nothing of the sort in decades.
The Sulu Sultan was forced to send a small force of fighters to Sabah to wage a guerilla war, but the force was decimated by the far superior Malaysian forces. During the fighting, the Philippine government did nothing by way of diplomacy to prevent the Filipinos from being slaughtered. Was it because we did not want to offend Malaysia, the principal sponsor of the peace talks with the MILF?
And then, what will happen to the Tripoli Agreement, the Moro National Liberation Front of Nur Misuari, and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao? The Tripoli Agreement is an international agreement that we are duty-bound to follow, the MNLF is recognized by the Organization of Islamic Conference, which is composed of all the Muslim nations in the world, as the representative of the Mindanao Muslims, and the ARMM was a creation of the Tripoli Agreement.
Coronel-Ferrer replied that the Tripoli Agreement continues to be in force, that the MNLF (but not Misuari) was consulted on the peace talks, and that the ARMM will be dissolved by a new plebiscite in the Muslim-dominated areas.
What if barangays in Muslim provinces vote against inclusion in the new Bangsamoro?
Bacani replied that it is the vote of the whole province, not of the individual barangays, that will determine if a province will be a part of the Bangsamoro. Even if barangays or even municipalities vote against inclusion but the vote of the whole province is for inclusion, that province will become part of the Bangsamoro notwithstanding the wishes of some barangays or municipalities.
What about the rights of Christians, the lumad, and other tribes?
Their rights will be respected. The Bangsamoro is not only for Muslims but also for all those living in Mindanao.
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On the complaint filed in the Office of the Ombudsman by Alan Paguia against HGC president Manuel R. Sanchez, and his predecessor, Gonzalo Benjamin A. Bongolan, for the loss of P16 billion in HGC funds, Sanchez admitted the losses but said these all happened before he assumed his post.
Sanchez explained that HGC is only a guarantor of loans extended by private banks to home developers. The corporation was created to encourage investors to invest in home developments and thus relieve the acute housing shortage.
Banks are reluctant to lend to home developers because of the high risks. But with HGC guaranteeing the loans, the banks can lend without fear. When a borrower fails to pay its debts, the bank simply calls on the guarantor, the HGC, to pay the debt.
Sanchez said that the loans are all backed by collateral and that HGC is now holding the foreclosed assets and is trying to sell them. However, because of legal disputes in the courts and the presence of squatters in the foreclosed properties, buyers are reluctant to buy. There are many interested buyers, he said, but when they see the squatters and learn of the court litigation, they back off.
The present HGC, Sanchez added, is addressing all these problems.
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