Feb 27, 2013

Letting sleeping dogs lie

The moribund—some say dormant—Philippine claim to Sabah, (abandoned by the central government seems more like it) was almost consigned to the dustbin of history until a hardy band of men from Sulu took matters into their own hands.

Stirred from a stupor of “let sleeping dogs lie” policy, the President is calling on the intruders to return home where the problem can be taken up with the Sultan of Sulu. A Philippine navy ship is waiting to fetch the informal settlers.

Numbering 235, the Sultan’s followers sailed to Lahad Datu, a coastal town in Sabah, to occupy the land they claim is their home to jolt both Malaysia and complacent Philippine governments from Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and full circle, to Benigno Aquino III.

Ironically, political arch-rivals Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos were on the same page for pushing the Sabah claim. Cory was kept busy by coup attempts; FVR was kept busy defending her and extending limits to his own term; Erap was busy managing several households; while Gloria and Mike Arroyo were too embedded with the Chinese. The present occupant of Malacañang is busy going after the Arroyos and other perceived enemies of the State.

Amina Rasul, Director of the Philippine Center for Islamic Democracy made a very strong case for the country to revive its claim to Sabah during a recent interview on ANC. Rasul narrated how a part of Sabah was bequeathed by the Sultan of Brunei to the Sultan of Sulu as a reward for helping quell a rebellion in his country.

In the twist and turn of history, the British which leased Sabah from the Sultan of Sulu through its North Borneo Trading Company ceded Sabah to the then-Federation of Malaya, a former colony.

Rasul suggested (a week before the President directed key functionaries to do so), the formation of a committee on Sabah composed of officials from the justice, finance, foreign affairs and the defense departments and the chief negotiator with the MILF for an all-bases covered claim. At the very least, Manila should help pursue the Sultan of Sulu’s proprietary rights if not a full sovereign claim on Sabah.

Rasul revealed why Nur Misuari has a strong interest in Sabah. Nur’s wife, Ruayda , is one of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu Ms. Rasul, a daughter of former Senator Santanina Rasul, is also related to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.

Misuari has warned Malaysia not to harm the Sultan’s followers or “we might be forced to come to their aid.” Nur is not one to be taken lightly as shown when he sent in his fighters to the Abu Sayyaf stronghold to rescue three kidnapped foreigners. The town of Lahad Datu is no more than two hours sailing time from Sulu on a fast outrigger boat.

Rasul said there’s a bigger stake in Sabah than the Scarborough Shoal dispute with China which Manila has elevated to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea for arbitration.

Manila’s move has riled Beijing who accuses the Philippines of violating the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. Accusing the Philippines of conduct unbecoming has shown the gall and effrontery of the Chinese. It is China which unilaterally declared its nine-dash line claiming the entire South China Sea without regard to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which gives countries with coast lines a 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines has exhausted diplomatic dialogue even as the Chinese deployed patrol boats to keep Filipino fishermen out of Scarborough Shoal which is within the country’s maritime borders.. The Chinese also built a garrison and an airstrip on the Paracels claimed by Vietnam.

China favors bilateral negotiations with other claimants, clearly a ploy to divide and conquer. The end game is for one or two of the claimants to cut a deal that would undermine the others’ claim.

A Filipino tycoon with investments on almost every big ticket project has proposed joint exploration with China of the potential oil and gas resources under the sea. It makes good business sense but only if the Chinese would be willing to set aside their sweeping claim over the South China Sea. Otherwise, the proposal is a siren song, seductive and fraught with danger.

In its agenda for hegemony in the region, China has stoked dormant historical hostilities with Japan and India. By including in its new Chinese passport a map of disputed territories still to be settled, Beijing has become the proverbial bull in a china shop. - source


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