POSTSCRIPT / September 3, 2002 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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What would Cong Dadong have done if he were here?

IF DADONG WERE HERE: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo should ask herself before retiring tonight what her late father — then President Diosdado Macapagal — would do if faced with the same crisis of Filipinos in Sabah being driven away from what has been home to them for generations.

Cong Dadong must have explained to his precocious daughter the legal, historical and logical reasons why that portion of the Sulu sultanate, formerly known as North Borneo, is part of the Philippines. Gloria was old enough then to understand.

We were distressed to hear Malacanang say the other day that this is not the time to “revive” the Philippine claim to Sabah. Is GMA telling the nation that the claim initiated by her father is dead that we now talk about possibly “reviving” it?

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LAZY LEGAL ADVISERS: We suspect that the only reason why Cabinet secretaries are telling GMA not to raise the Sabah claim at this time is that they are not ready to discuss it. They cannot muster the same clarity and conviction that GMA’s father would have demanded of any member of his Cabinet arguing the Sabah question.

This may explain why Justice Secretary Hernando Perez, when suddenly confronted with the Sabah question, took the lazy way out — which was to exhume hoary legal opinions of his predecessors without attempting to update or shed new light on them.

Because he was not ready with new and continuing research, Perez ended up repeating a discredited legal opinion that the Philippines does not have basis for a judicial settlement of the claim. The way Perez torpedoed the Philippine position with that reckless statement, one would think he was also lawyering for the Malaysians.

(President Arroyo must keep in mind when assessing Perez’s position on major questions and big contracts that the former Batangas congressman plans to run for senator — which is a rather expensive adventure.)

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MALAYSIA PAYS RENT: There is no question that the humane treatment of Filipinos in Sabah deserves priority attention because it is a problem that is here and now. But while attending to this, Malacanang should not give the impression that it has no intention of pressing the more basic Sabah claim.

The status of Filipino residents in Sabah is intertwined with the prior question of sovereignty. If Sabah is Philippine territory, as we claim, there will not be this problem of Filipinos being driven out of their homes.

To most of our Muslim brothers in the Sulu-Tawi-tawi area, Sabah is part of home. They are correct, since Sabah is owned by the Sulu sultan. In fact, the successors of the British North Borneo company that leased it from the original sultan are still paying rent.

When confronted with this fact, Kuala Lumpur and its British patrons lamely add that it was leased to the British company for perpetuity. Forever? There’s no such thing!

If ever, perpetuity cannot be interpreted to mean longer than 99 years. The old US bases in the Philippines were initially covered by a perpetual lease. But the accepted interpretation of “perpetuity” of the lease is 99 years, not longer.

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MERE LESSEE, NOT OWNER: Assuming the lease is active (since Malaysia is still paying rent), the lessee merely enjoys occupancy and use of the area. The sovereign rights of the Sulu sultan, and the Philippine government by extension, cannot be and have not been transferred to Malaysia.

Now if Malaysia has no sovereign rights over Sabah, what right does it have to drive out Filipinos? What it can do is sublease parcels and collect rent from the tenants, then impose penalties for non-payment.

What we are afraid the government might have neglected to do all these years is to strengthen the Manila leadership’s relationship with the Sulu sultan. The present sultanate might suddenly prove difficult and complicate our claim if it has not been treated well.

What are we doing about these details that could make or break our claim?

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HOMEWORK NEGLECTED: The deportation of Filipinos from Sabah, including those who have lived there longer than the policemen rounding them up like cattle, would not have come to pass had we been assiduously doing our homework.

Our hesitation to bring up the Sabah claim as a prior question springs from the fact that some of our leaders either have been compromised on the matter or have neglected to build a strong case.

When pleading for Filipinos in Sabah, cannot President Arroyo mention even just in passing the need for discussing more basic issues? Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mahamad would know what “basic issues” means.

And we repeat for the nth time: When communicating with Kuala Lumpur on any issue remotely touching on Sabah, we should always insert a standard line reiterating our reservation about our pending claim. This is to keep the claim alive and not lose it by default.

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FRAPORT ALREADY ASSURED?: Instead of acting with alacrity to borrow $400 million to buy out the German firm Fraport in the Piatco contract for the building and managing of the NAIA Terminal 3, and then turning around to ask Fraport to manage the airport, why does not the government first talk with Piatco about removing onerous provisions in the contract?

By rushing to deliver the terminal to Fraport, the Arroyo administration is giving the impression that it has entered already into a deal with the Germans for some considerations. Watch the political flak.

If the Piatco contract is really onerous (we think it is), why can’t the Arroyo administration first sit down with the local investors in Piatco and negotiate a better deal? Who knows, Piatco might just agree to remove the offending provisions.

If the Arroyo runners are already committed to deliver Terminal 3 to Fraport, they should at least go through the motions of sitting down with Piatco so they can say later that they tried but failed.

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NOT A JOB FOR SOLONS: Congressmen intervening in the Piatco case say that the contract is above board, blah-blah, pointing out that the contract had been passed upon by them as valid and fair.

The trouble is that everybody knows the expensive lobby that usually goes into making sure certain congressional committees clear (or denounce) certain juicy contracts.

A congressional committee’s upholding the validity of a commercial agreement is not worth anything, simply because ruling on contested contracts is not the function of Congress but of the courts. It’s just a congressional sideline.

But my barber said it is interesting (to him) that some lawmakers come out in the open to “clear” certain contracts that they had summoned for “investigation.” At least, he said, we get to know kung sinu-sino ang kumita diyan (who made money).”

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DRILON, WELCOME!: Speaking of airports, Senate President Franklin Drilon recently received shabby treatment at an American port of entry. Despite his holding an official passport, and identifying himself as the No. 3 official of the Philippine republic, he was unceremoniously told to take off his shoes for inspection!

It seems some idiots at US ports of entry think Flips are in the habit of hiding bombs in their shoes?

At least it may console plain travelers who had received similar if not worse treatment to know that our Senate president was no exception.

Some of us are wont to point out, we’re sure, that it is partly our fault that we’re treated like that in foreign ports. The value of the Philippine passport has deteriorated over the years and it no longer assures us the normal courtesies accorded other nationalities.

We’re sure that others will remark that we should not be touchy about these standard inspections at foreign ports, especially after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America.

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ATIENZA VS FERNANDO: Ever jealous of his turf, Manila Mayor Lito Atienza is showing signs of allergy to MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando’s aggressive cleanup of Metro Manila. Hizzoner’s juvenile attitude is amusing.

Well, if the mayor does not want Fernando to help clean the nation’s capital, let the MMDA boss first work around Atienza’s territory, especially the more cooperative cities (e.g. Pasay, Quezon, Mandaluyong, San Juan and Caloocan) immediately contiguous to Manila.

The competition could redound to the advantage of residents and businessmen in the area as Atienza works overtime to show that he can make Manila cleaner than its neighbors and Fernando strives to do better than Atienza just outside the capital.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 3, 2002)

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