By Ellen Tordesillas
In his Facebook wall, Cotabato-based Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance in Notre Dame University yesterday said, “After the President’s press statement on the Sabah issue, I am continued to be deluged with question,’Who is the adviser of the President on the Sabah issue?’
“Sagot ko: Ambot… baka ang Malaysian PM. From the tone and the content would show that he/she is either Malaysian or Malaysian-Philippine.”
In his statement, which came on the second week of the standoff in Lahad Datu, a seaside village in Sabah, President Aquino several times spoke of peace. Yet, the language he used reeks of arrogance that could only come from ignorance of the root of the issue.
He described the cause that the Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III and his younger brother Prince Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, who is the leader of the group in Lahad Datu as a “hopeless cause.”
Addressing Kiram, Aquino said: “You are a leader of your clan, and every leader seeks the well-being of his constituents. These times require you to use your influence to prevail on our countrymen to desist from this hopeless cause.”
Does this mean the Aquino government has given up the Philippine government’s claim on Sabah?
In his statement, Aquino seemed not sure about the legitimacy of the Philippine claim which was initiated in the 1963 by President Diosdado Macapagal. He said: “This issue is complex: from the basis of our claim, to the question of the rightful heirs, and even involving the translation of documents from an era when our grandparents weren’t even born.”
Responding to the President’s statement Kiram III, though his daughter Princess Jacel Kiram said: “ Mr. President, what more proof do you want us to show that Sabah is ours?”
This standoff came about because the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu decided to do it their way after Malacañang snubbed Kiram’s request for a meeting.
Aquino revealed this in his statement: “Let me say to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III: I have just been made aware that a letter to me, from you, was sent through OPAPP in the very first weeks of my term, when we were organizing the government. Unfortunately, this letter was lost in the bureaucratic maze. Let me make clear that there was no intention to ignore your letter. Knowing this now, will you let your mistaken belief dictate your course of action?”
Aquino also said, “The avenue of peaceful and open dialogue is still available to us. Let us therefore sit down as brothers to address your grievances in a peaceful, calm manner according to our laws and according to correct processes when your people arrive home.”
Yet in the same statement he warned Kiram that his patience is running out:
“As President and chief executor of our laws, I have tasked an investigation into possible violations of laws by you, your followers, and collaborators engaged in this foolhardy act. May I remind you as well that as a citizen of the Republic, you are bound by the constitution and its laws.
“Among your possible violations is Article II Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, the enabling law of which is Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code, which punishes those who “provoke or give occasion for a war…or expose Filipino citizens to reprisals on their persons or property.” Thus, you are now fully aware of the consequences of your actions.”
“We have not yet reached the point of no return, but we are fast approaching that point.”
To which Kiram stood firm: “As far as we are concerned, we haven’t committed a crime.”
But he also talked about peace: “The sultan of Sulu’s action is a benevolent aspiration and not a violent reaction to fight.”
Will the real diplomats please take over?