POSTSCRIPT / June 20, 2000 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Press Sabah claim, instead of opening consulate there

THERE was a little inconsistency in our last Postscript. We said that the hostage impasse in Sulu is actually a Malaysian problem because the 21 victims were kidnapped from Sipadan, a Malaysian resort off Sabah.

The scene of the crime is Sabah. That corner of Borneo is generally regarded as Malaysian territory since Kuala Lumpur — on proddings of its British mentors– has arbitrarily included that former British colony into its shaky federation.

Our inconsistency was in saying that Sipadan in Sabah is in Malaysia while arguing in the same column that Sabah is actually Philippine territory.

* * *

LET’s smooth out the inconsistency by restating our position.

The kidnapping was committed in a resort in Sabah. While the Philippines has sovereign rights over Sabah, Malaysia which is renting the place has effective police control over it. The primary responsibility of preventing and solving that kidnapping and other crimes rests on Malaysia.

The Malaysian government, as successor of the British crown, is merely renting Sabah from the Sultan of Sulu, a Filipino chieftain who has legal and historical title to Sabah.

This relationship with the Sulu sultan as landlord is recognized by Kuala Lumpur, which is regularly paying rent to the sultanate. The last and most recent annual payment was the 5,300 Malaysian ringgit (roughly P55,000) paid through the Malaysian embassy in Manila last Dec. 29.

* * *

MALAYSIA was not the original leaseholder of Sabah (formerly known as North Borneo). It came upon this valuable property only by fraud and misrepresentation.

In the 1880s, the reigning Sulu sultan leased to the British North Borneo Company his corner of Borneo facing Palawan and Sulu. After the last Pacific war, the company passed on to the British crown its lease rights to North Borneo.

With the burdens of empire weighing heavily on its sagging shoulders, Great Britain turned over Sabah to Malaya in 1963 for inclusion in a hurriedly formed federation of several former British territories to be called Malaysia.

(Singapore was originally with that federation, but the dominant Chinese controlling that island-state could not stand the Malay amateurs running the federation that they soon renounced the gunshot marriage and declared independence.)

Taking over the lease on Sabah, Malaysia continues to this day to pay rent to the Sulu sultanate.

* * *

IT was then President Diosdado Macapagal who formalized the Philippine claim on Sabah based mainly on legal and historical facts.

The Sulu sultan executed documents turning over to the Philippine government his sovereign rights over Sabah while keeping property rights. This act, in addition to data organized by Macapagal, firmed up the Philippine claim.

President Marcos pursued the claim. On the side, the clever lawyer was able to make the sultan also sign a Power of Attorney appointing Ferdinand Marcos his legal representative in protecting and consolidating the property rights of the sultan and his family.

Geopolitics being what it is, including the unfortunate collusion between Great Britain and the United States on the hurried creation of the Malaysian federation, Manila played down its claim on Sabah in the interest of maintaining the “equilibrium” in the region.

* * *

HISTORY should not be allowed to be the sole judge of whether our accommodating attitude on the Sabah question is right or wrong. By the time history renders judgment, it would be too late to correct any policy error.

The decision on what to do with Sabah and Malaysia must be made by the present generation of Filipinos, not consigned to the hazy future.

Too long have we “leaned back” — to borrow the graphic words of former Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus on another subject — without really enjoying the inevitable rape by our Malaysian neighbors.

Let’s dust off our claim on Sabah and raise hell. The Malaysian are becoming too presumptuous. They have misinterpreted our weak-kneed diplomacy for a fatal political cancer of the liver.

* * *

JUST among us drinking buddies, this Sabah issue — like the protracted war in Mindanao — could even be another convenient distraction from our mismanagement of state affairs.

Note how a wide swath of the population has lined up behind President Estrada in his noisy war in Mindanao, forgetting in the meantime the faltering economy, the runaway corruption and the general moral decay.

The war may be getting rather expensive by the day, but what’s a few hundred millions bursting from the barrel of a gun if we’re able to rally patriotic support for our beleaguered Commander-in-Chief?

Sssh…Don’t tell anybody, but if and when the war starts to lose its magic as a distraction, the Sabah claim can be retrieved from the back burner and slammed on the kitchen floor for dramatic impact.

* * *

PRESSING our Sabah claim is much better than the harebrained proposal of opening a Philippine consulate in Sabah.

We thought that after we pointed out the error of opening a consulate on our own territory (Sabah), as proposed by Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora in one of his inspired moments, that was the end of that juvenile joke.

But yesterday we were greeted by reports quoting officials of the foreign office also pressing the opening of a consulate in Sabah to look after the teeming Filipinos who call Sabah home (but of course!) despite harassment by Malaysian police.

Is it possible that our diplomats have been lulled into thinking that Sabah is Malaysian territory and therefore a logical site for a Philippine consulate? See how years of “leaning back” had addled the, huh, brains of some people?

* * *

AT the Philippine Port Authority, meanwhile, the PPA board is scheduled to meet today to look for justifications for awarding a juicy contract for the upgrading of the Batangas Port not to the lowest (P2.8 billion) but to the higher (P2.9 billion) bidder.

Bigtime contractor Felipe Cruz Sr. representing the lowest bidder (FF Cruz/Shimizu Joint Venture) has asked to be allowed to present his case to the board. Representatives of the well-connected higher bidder (Hanjin/Konokei) cannot be far behind.

The PPA’s Pre-qualification, Bids and Awards Committee (PBAC) confirmed yesterday our report that, to the committee, the money part is just one of many criteria for awarding the contract for the project originally estimated to cost P4.8 billion.

* * *

CHAIRMAN Edilberto Catalan of PBAC also confirmed our report that FF Cruz, despite its submitting the lowest bid, lost out on two points in the “Instruction to Bidders and Conditions of Contract” issued by the PPA to the bidding parties:

  1. Construction period — “The works shall be completed within 1,080 days from the commencement date of the works, exclusive of one year for the defects liability period.” FF Cruz submitted a 1, 095-day schedule.
  2. Personality of bidder — “The original combination of joint operation group members proposed by the contractor and approved by the employer at the stage of pre-qualification shall be maintained at the time of the bidding. Any change of combination of joint operation group members will result in rejection of proposed bid.”

After submitting its bid, the FF Cruz/Shimizu introduced Filsystem, a firm owned by FF Cruz Jr. (son and namesake of Felipe Cruz) as a participating partner.

* * *

BUT Cruz says that these details of the 15-day overrun and the bringing in of another partner after prequalification were minor details that should not prevent the awarding of the contract to the lowest bidder.

The apparent determination of the PPA management to give the contract to the second lowest (actually higher) bidder has fueled reports that a presidential crony is applying pressure on PPA. The mess is expected to spill over and derail the bigger PPA plan of modernizing and privatizing North Harbor.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 20, 2000)

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