Bayan regards this double standard in handling the Sabah and Spratlys/Panatag Shoal issues as a demonstration of the Aquino government’s “deceitful and sham patriotism.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Why is President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III “cowardly” when it comes to some Filipino Muslim’s historically-recognized claim on Sabah, yet aggressive in playing hardball when it comes to asserting some still-to-be-proven claims on Spratlys and Scarborough? Aquino’s “apparent double standard in asserting the country’s territorial integrity” was criticized this week by various progressive groups.
Some media commentators and academicians, meanwhile, questioned Aquino’s aggressive stance toward the followers of the Sultanate of Sulu, when diplomacy and “creative solutions” seem more appropriate especially on the first few days of the arrival of the armed guards of the sultanate in Lahad Datu. At the time, the Malaysian government has not revealed yet the policy it would take in response to Sultan Kiram’s demands.
As of this writing, the standoff has reportedly led to bloodshed, as a firefight broke out between Malaysian police and the followers of Sulu Sultan Jumalul Kiram III who have been occupying a fishing village in the contested territory for more than two weeks now. Multisectoral group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the Aquino administration should be held accountable for the bloodshed.
Aquino’s negligence of Moros, indigenous peoples group
Earlier, the Indigenous peoples’ partylist group Katribu slammed Aquino’s ‘deadline’ to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to make his followers leave Sabah. “It is Aquino’s duty to assert our legitimate claims in disputed territories. It is cowardly of him to threaten the Sultan Kiram and his small band of followers with imprisonment but not engage Malaysia in diplomatic talks to resolve the issue,” said Kakay Tolentino, Katribu Partylist Secretary General.
More than 200 guards of the heirs of sultanate of Sulu, some of them armed, took to physically occupying Lahad Datu to force the Philippine and Malaysian governments to recognize their historical and legal claim to Sabah. It was driven by desperation, said Bayan chair Carol Araullo. The sultan’s family is reportedly getting only a minimal rent from Malaysia considering the vastness and resources of its Sabah properties.
But rather than show support, Aquino threatened the sultan’s followers, among them a younger brother of Kiram, with prosecution even before his counterpart in the Malaysian government had spoken. Days after Aquino’s tough talks against Kiram’s followers, the Malaysian government deployed armed troops and began to cordon off the areas being occupied by the sultanate’s men.
The “intention of the entire sultanate is not to be intransigent but to start the long process of talks. What the situation required is listening to the sultanate’s demands,” said Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo in an AM radio interview this week. He bewailed Aquino’s tack which then consisted of sending a delegation to Lahad Datu to make them go back to the Philippines. “If they went there only to fetch our brothers, they are committing a sin against us, their brothers in the Philippines and not just those in Malaysia. In that case, there is already a connivance between governments of Malaysia and the Philippines,” Idjirani said.
The Aquino government also threatened the group that charges may be filed against them. Charges include inciting to sedition and illegal possession of firearms, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Some critics countered though that the Aquino government needs to look at the position of the Sultanate of Sulu beyond Philippine laws, considering that the said Sultanate has been in existence even before the Philippines was “discovered” and named by Ferdinand Magellan.
Tolentino of Katribu said the struggle for the rights of the country’s national minorities—both the indigenous peoples and the Moro people – is not recognized by the State.
The Aquino government has a tendency to dismiss the indigenous peoples’ ancestral domain, and in the case of the Sultanate of Sulu, “Aquino has dismissed the Sultan’s assertion to claim Sabah as ‘foolhardy.’ This only reveals how the Philippine state abandons the issue and leaves the Moro people on their own to assert their rights to their ancestral territory,” Tolentino said.
What is happening in Lahad Datu, Katribu says, is the result of “the State’s negligence of minority issues.”
The multi-sectoral group bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) also criticized Aquino’s “absurd point that recognizing the ownership of the Sultanate over Sabah and Sulu could pave the way for its eventual secession from the Philippines.” Sultan Jamalul Kiram and his siblings had repeatedly said they consider themselves as Filipinos and they are merely asking the government to assert their and the country’s claim to Sabah.
Aquino’s sham patriotism is the true spoiler to peace process
Aquino’s “defeatist” attitude concerning the Philippine claim on Sabah contrasts starkly with his administration’s treatment of the Spratlys and Panatag Shoal dispute with China, said Carol Araullo, chairperson of Bayan. She pointed out that in the case of Spratlys, no less than the head of state engages in open polemics on the territorial dispute at every available opportunity, domestic or international. “It has even filed a case against China for international arbitration,” she said. While “we have strong grounds to assert our sovereignty over the Spratlys and Panatag Shoal, we have even more compelling historical and legal bases to claim Sabah,” Araullo said.
Bayan regards this double standard in handling the Sabah and Spratlys/Panatag Shoal issues as a demonstration of the Aquino government’s “deceitful and sham patriotism.” It demonstrates, they said, that Aquino’s noises with China over territorial dispute has little to do with its patriotic duty to defend the national sovereignty and territorial integrity but more about “using the Spratlys/Panatag Shoal dispute to promote US imperialism’s hegemonic schemes in the region.”
The Aquino government “is using the dispute with China to justify the ever increasing presence of American troops, warships, jet fighters and drones, and other war materiel in the country’s territory under the auspices of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” Araullo said.
About the same time the Malaysian troops started shooting at the guards of Sultan Kiram in Lahad Datu, the negotiating panels of the Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF ) were signing one of the completed annexes to the previously signed Framework Agreement. Unfortunately, the two parties reportedly said certain groups have been supposedly egging on the sultanate to act like a spoiler to the peace process.
“Aquino has subsumed the Sabah claim to political and geopolitical considerations, in particular the wish to bring an end to the Moro secessionist movement in the South through US-backed peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) where Malaysia has played a key role as facilitator,” Araullo of Bayan commented in a statement. She said the Aquino regime, together with the US which has taken a hands-off posture on the Sabah stand-off, apparently views the Sabah claim as a potential stumbling block, if not complete spoiler, to inking the coveted final peace compact with the MILF.
But Aquino’s handling of the Sabah issue is ultimately the true peace spoiler. As Araullo said, “The Aquino administration is not only surrendering our territorial integrity and national sovereignty, it is also creating conditions that make an enduring peace with justice in Mindanao more elusive.”