The government's “Ides of March”

DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT - Atty Josephus B. Jimenez - Pang-masa

Every presidency has its own Waterloo and Gettysburg. With due respect, foreign relations may be this administration's Achilles' heel. In terms of character and integrity, it may be claimed that PNoy's government is more honest than that of GMA's. But in competence and expertise on  diplomacy, in the defense of our national territories, in dealing with our Asian neighbors, and in managing international or regional crises, we are sad to note, with due respect, that this government has been tested and has been found wanting. The handling of the Sabah standoff and Malaysian affairs may have shown it all. It has been almost all a series of a comedy of errors.

The labor front is concerned because many of  the 700,000 or so Filipinos in Malaysia are now facing many serious conflicts and difficulties, all due to wrong advices given to the President, which led to many wrong moves, wrong words that ought not have been spoken by the chief executive. This is not just a political issue or a diplomatic row. This is also a labor problem because a lot of OFWs are now feeling the backlash of an antagonistic host government and employers. These employers, who are angry at Filipinos in general, are not renewing work contracts. In fact, many current work agreements are being pre-terminated.

What are the comedy of errors? First of all, it was unthinkable to sign a peace agreement in Mindanao, which totally disregarded the Sultanate of Sulu. That was a major breach of the expected imperatives. The peace advisers limited their terms of reference to the Maranaws and the Maguindanaoans, ignoring totally the Tausugs who are the most valiant warriors who never surrendered to Spain, the USA, Japan and any foreign power. This is not about Nur Missuari. It is about the Sultan who used to be treated with respect by former presidents Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos. These presidents were advised by high caliber diplomats like Carlos P. Romulo and Emmanuel Pelaez, Jovito Salonga and Raul Manglapus.

Second, it is beyond comprehension how such a highly visible outward movement of armed troops, (the Sultan's so-called Royal Army) with that massive magnitude could have been executed by the Rajah Muda, without having been detected, and possibly preempted by the military's intelligence operations, if any. How could such movement even ever take place in our territory, without our armed forces being aware, not to mention realize the far-reaching implications of such a very provocative move. Third, it really borders on the incredible how could the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia just stay in the comforts of their offices in Kuala Lumpur and leave Lahad Datu, Sampurna, Tawao, Sandakan and other “kampungs” in Sabah be left unwatched, when in fact, 80 percent of the Filipinos are in those areas.

Fourth, any freshman in the studies of international diplomacy and international crisis management would, at all cost, prevail upon a President not to discredit his own people via national television and global radio. A leader of a nation, who is properly advised by his foreign affairs expert and media advisers (he has two with Cabinet ranks) would not go by national TV to warn a Filipino of criminal charges. Fifth, I am sorry to have to say that you cannot threaten a Tausug, especially if he is of royal blood. If that was a posturing to appease Malaysia, that apparently did not achieve the goal of getting Malaysian cooperation. In fact, it emboldened the Malaysian militia to bomb our people in Lahad Datu and Sampurna. How could we do that to our own people ? Even the United Nations is concerned.

If the Sultan were Julius Caesar and the guys in Malacañang were Brutus and Cassius, the killing of so many Filipinos in Sabah by Malaysian soldiers, perhaps instigated by the encouraging words of our national leadership, could indeed be likened to the “Ides of March.” This government, to be fair, has shown many noble deeds and virtues. But Sabah may be its weakest, most vulnerable point. What has been done to the Sultanate can never be justified in law or in cultural ethics and morals. This crisis can even escalate into our country's Waterloo. It is a pity that these things could be happening at a time, when our economy is projected to be doing so well. This column views these developments with deep concern because the labor front in Malaysia is in turmoil. Any attempt by bureaucrats to deodorize the stench of this debacle can even worsen this crisis.

We pray that in this season of Lent, PNoy finds the humility to send a top notch senior statesman, who is highly respected in Kuala Lumpur, former President FVR, as emissary to agree on a win-win solution. Those inexperienced underlings should give way to men of such stature and credibility. The sooner we set aside our self-righteousness, the better for all of us. We should do everything within our means to solve this crisis. Any delay or equivocation may prove disastrous. Mark my words.

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