The Manila Times, March 4, 2013
“Is (Interior Secretary) Mar Roxas now the spokesperson for Malaysia (by claiming) that Malaysia will not talk to us? ” angrily asked Sultan Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd, whose men led by the crown prince Raja Muda defied Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd’s ultimatum for them to leave Sabah, or else.
Kiram though should be also asking that question rather to Roxas’ boss: Mr. Aquino, and I’m afraid the answer would be in the affirmative, so much so that Malaysia should confer on him one of its honorific titles that can be given to foreigners, like Dato.
“There will be no compromise; either they surrender or face the consequences,” the Malaysian prime minister was quoted in The Borneo Post the other day. “Surrender now, without conditions, Aquino for his part announced.
Check out everything Aquino said since the crisis broke out in February 13 — and you can easily do this in this day and age through the Internet– and you will realize that he never made even the vaguest reference that the Philippines claims Sabah as its territory, and that is the root of the crisis.
He never even mentioned that the Sulu Sultan’s and his people firmly believe Malaysia has land-grabbed his clans’ century old homeland. His spokespersons even in effect dismissed the Sabah claim as passé.Instead, Aquino downgraded the issue to “grievances” of the Sultan and his people. Worse, he had even leaked his accusations through a yellow newspaper: that the Sultan is out to sabotage the peace talks, and that former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales is behind this conspiracy. He even alleged that the Sultan and his men are mercenaries hired by a shadowy group, since their expedition to Sabah required substantial funds. Aquino has even alleged that Kiram 3rd may not be really the Sultan of Sulu, because others are claiming the throne.
He and his officials even read them the riot act, that they’d be charged for advocating war (according to Aquino), for inciting people to rebellion (according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima), or for violating the election ban on carrying firearms (according to police chief Alan Purisima).
Aquino’s officials dutifully followed his propaganda line, with his spokespersons virtually dismissing our Sabah claim, practically speaking as Malaysian deputy spokespersons. Roxas, whose involvement in the issue is puzzle as he is interior and not foreign affairs secretary, scolded the Sultan’s men: “Ang may hawak ng teritoryo, sino ba? Malaysia ‘di ba? Ang may pwersa dun, police, military at iba pa, sino? ‘Di ba Malaysia?” “Ang titigas ng ulo nyo,” he rebuked them as if they were his servants
The worst statement – or the best, if you consider it as a Malaysian one – came from Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras who said the other day: ““The President’s statement is very clear… If this happened to you… if you had a house, and then somebody comes in to your house, armed, how would you react?” Mr. Almendras got his analogy reversed. Kiram should retort: “If you just leased your house, and the tenant refuses to give it back to you, and brandishes his arms, how would you react?”
Almendras’ analogy is exactly that of the Malaysian prime minister, who has repeatedly referred to the Sultan’s men as “Filipino intruders” and “Sulu gunmen”. Like Aquino, the prime minister has never mentioned to the Sultan’s claims over Sabah.
Senator Francis Escudero, as has been his style, has pursued Aquino’s playbook but tries hard to appear not to be his factotum: “My personal view is that the Sabah claim is a personal issue involving the Sultan of Sulu. It’s a private right and a private claim. He cannot say, however, that Sabah is part of the Philippines.”
Escudero should read the laws his institution passed. This will be the third time I will quote verbatim Republic Act 5466, hoping that the Chief Executive (of the laws of the land) and his minions, including Escudero, read it:
“Section 2. The definition of the baselines of the territorial sea of the Philippine Archipelago as provided in this Act is without prejudice to the delineation of the baselines of the territorial sea around the territory of Sabah, situated in North Borneo, over which the Republic of the Philippines has acquired dominion and sovereignty.” (Emphasis mine)
It was international-law expert Estelito Mendoza, who is the most knowledgeable about our Sabah claim, who had pointed this out, emphasizing that RA 9522, which was enacted on March 10, 2009 did not amend this provision.
We can debate till dawn whether the Sultan’s claim over Sabah is legitimate or not. The fact is, there is a Philippine law saying that our country has acquired dominion and sovereignty over Sabah.
Escudero’s is a clear case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. The Sultanate of Sulu’s private claims over Sabah were formally turned over to the Philippine government in 1962, making it part of our nation’s sovereign territory. (See Undersecretary Manuel Quezon 3rd’s “annotated timeline” in his website quezon.ph, which I think is the most informative material for our Sabah claim.)
(Similarly, fishing businessman and adventurer Tomas Cloma discovered and claimed the Spratley islands in 1957. After being allegedly threatened by Ferdinand Marcos with a “usurpation of authority” suit, since he was called “Admiral” at the National Press Club bar where he was habitué of, Cloma ceded his claim over the Sprately islands, including Kalayaan Island where we have a military garrison now, to the Philippine government — for one peso.)
I had thought that Aquino was just bungling the Sabah crisis just as it did in the Luneta hostage crisis in 2010. Consider the following indications of such incompetence in handling a crisis:
- Why hasn’t he even convened the National Security Council to formulate a national consensus on handling what is undoubtedly the biggest foreign-relations flashpoint so far, even eclipsing the Spratleys issue.?
- His predecessors Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo routinely called the Malaysian Prime Minister for less explosive issues. Has Aquino done this, or even tried to do this, to save the lives of many of what he calls his ‘bosses’ – Filipinos?
- Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario seem not to consider the issue an important one, having remained mum on the Sabah issue, content with calling the Malaysian ambassador to brief him on the situation, and giving him a note verbale (to let a Navy ship pick up the wounded). Can’t he use that statement, which he often utters with a strong American accent with regards to our territorial dispute with China: “What’s ours is ours.” Or should he just concede, to enlighten the Sultan: “What was ours in the north Borneo is now Malaysia’s.”
- Why did Aquino and his officials push them to a corner by threatening the Sultan and his people, that they will be arrested if ever they show their faces in the Philippines?
- Why didn’t Aquino himself talk to the Sultan, and instead ordered inconsequential hangers-obn like Akbayan cadre Ronald Llamas (whose mind might be preoccupied if he could ask the Sultan’s men for DVDs) or the invisible national security adviser (whose name few people would even recall) to meet with the Muslim leader?
- When the Malaysian commando units were preparing for the kill, where was Aquino? On the campaign trail, in Pampanga lambasting Macapagal-Arroyo. (As in the Luneta hostage crisis, where he sized up the situation at a Chinese restaurant, was he briefed in San Fernando, this time at a sisig eatery?)
Incompetence or just being pro-Malaysia because, as international law expert Harry Roque in effect claimed in a media forum, his political DNA requires it?