No harm in assuring Sultan that his claim lives on

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

In the wake of the killing in Sabah of ten followers of the Sulu Sultanate, the government is hard pressed to explain its side. Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras is doing most of the talking. Supposedly they did everything they could to convince the 235 “intruders into Sabah” to return home. They even got Malaysia thrice to delay the ultimatum to leave. Yet they are now being accused of arrogance and impatience in dealing with the band of Tausugs loyal to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, cries Almendras.

It might help him to review the tapes of their press interviews. Then, with a little imagination, put himself in the shoes of the 235 men and women, mostly unarmed, led by Jamalul’s brother, Crown Prince Agbimudin Kiram.

There you are in a coastal village in Sabah, asserting your historical proprietary right, which Malaysia has been belittling for decades. You also came to assuage the suffering of fellow-Tausugs, migrants looking for work, once welcomed in exchange for voting for the Malaysian ruling party, but now being driven away to forestall a criminal investigation. You expect your own government in Manila to support you. You hardly understand that different administrations can have different priorities. All you know is that your ancestor had assigned to Manila the authority to pursue your parallel sovereignty right.

But what does the government say? Puzzled with your centuries-long Sabah claim, the President belatedly asks the Cabinet for a study. Through emissaries he tells Jamalul, in Manila, to make all of you come home to Sulu. Then, his subalterns threaten you with imprisonment upon your return. One snarls that you incited to war and endangered your fellow-Filipinos. Another sneers that you are carrying unlicensed firearms, during an election ban at that. Yet another smirks that your Sultanate evaded taxes on your measly recompense for Malaysia’s multibillion-dollar exploitation of your Sabah. The final blow: the President’s foremost Cabinet man calls all of you stubborn, so your fate lies solely in the hands of your foolhardy leaders.

Imaginably the Sultan and his followers felt abandoned. Left with no options from their Philippine side, they chose to fight it out with the Malaysian security forces.

With ten killed and ten captured of the 235, the President renewed a call for the remnants to surrender to Malaysia. To which Jamalul replied, “All they know is surrender.” The Sultan found it unthinkable to give up not only themselves but also their territorial-ownership right. He must have recalled how many of his forebears had tied a kris to the strong arm and attacked rather than submit to superior-armed usurpers.

Meantime, Secretary for Strategic Planning Ricky Carandang says they are looking for ways to prevent any more bloodshed. Perhaps the answer is staring them in the face. First, stop barking at the Sultan to stand down first before expecting any talk, while threatening his men with jailing. Second, start telling them what they’ve been waiting to hear, to convince them to come home.

The Sultan and his followers want the government to acknowledge his claim over Sabah. His clan has historical documents and court rulings to bolster it. No harm for the highest official of the land to assure him of support. Say too that the government needs all of them alive in order to press their claim against Malaysia.

Such confidence building is urgent. To follow, when Jamalul’s men are back home with assurance of government help, are the details. Like, continued allegiance of the Sultanate to the Philippines, and inclusion of the Sabah claim in any peace pact with Moro separatists.

Time is running out. Reports filter in from Sabah that five troopers have been killed in an ambush in Semporna, two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Lahad Datu, where the 235 clashed with Malaysian forces Friday. Semporna hosts touristy Badjao seashore houses on stilts, like those in Sulu. Malaysia says the ambushes were connected to the Sabah standoff.

Malaysian forces fiercely are hunting down Jamalul’s tattered band. The Tausugs are likely to all die in a week, from hunger, fatigue, and bullets. In a century this generation will have passed away too. But the memory of the massacred in Lahad Datu will live on, as martyrs who died for a noble cause.

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E-mail from one Prescott James, [email protected], presented verbatim: “I refer to your article, ‘Gov’t leaving Sultan no options with Philippines’ (Gotcha, 1Mar. 2013). It was a good article, however you failed to mentioned in 1877, Brunei invoke its authority over all of North Borneo over a permanent deal and Bestowed Gustavus Von Overbeck as Maharajah of Sabah, and in that agreement, it stipulated all the land currently claimed Sultan Sulu. Or did you purposely skipped this fact? Second of all, you also failed to mention Madrid Protocol 1885 whereby, Spanish have NULLIFIED all claim by Sultan Sulu over North Borneo. This is historical facts and I don’t think it is there for exhibition purposes.”

My reply: Prescott, you refer to how a vanquished Sultan of Brunei was forced to install the Austrian von Overbeck over Sabah, as he did the British James Brooke and other ‘White Rajahs’ over Sarawak. Too, to the exclusivist partitioning of the Malay Empire by Britain and Spain. Such imperialistic impositions no longer are deemed valid in this modern world. Thus, they do not and should not matter in a historical review of the Sabah claim, by any self-respecting party to it. You have an Anglo-Saxon name of an American or British, but your English is so ungrammatical; likely you are not to the language born. A Malay perhaps: Malaysian, Filipino, or Bruneian; a Sabahan, Tausug, or Bornean? If so, think like a freeman, as our proud forefathers were, not subjugated by colonial mentality.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

E-mail: [email protected]

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