POSTSCRIPT / September 8, 2002 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Deportation issue tied to Sabah claim

SUBMIT TO THEIR COURTS?: So the government is thinking of sending back to Sabah a 13-year-old girl who was abused while under Malaysian police detention prior to her deportation. The idea kuno is to enable her to testify and pursue rape charges.

The Malaysian had earlier suggested that since the accusation was serious, they wanted the girl back so they could proceed with the investigation and prosecute the offender(s). This could be a trap!

For the girl to go there and the case to progress, we will have to recognize the jurisdiction of a Malaysian court in Sabah, a territory being occupied by Malaysia and being claimed by the Philippines.

Recognizing the Malaysian court’s authority could amount to recognition of the sovereign rights of Malaysia over Sabah and its inhabitants. Submitting to a Malaysian and not to a Philippine court in Sabah will jeopardize our claim that Sabah is Philippine territory.

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CLAIM IS A BASIC ISSUE: The same trap lurks in a suggestion — also from Kuala Lumpur — for Manila to put up a consulate in Sabah to expedite the ironing out of irritants that crop up every now and then.

Why would we establish a consulate in Sabah when that is Philippine territory? Niloloko tayo ng mga iyan!

With due respect to President Arroyo, who has been saying that she is approaching the deportation issue apart from our Sabah claim, we think the two points cannot be taken up independently of each other.

In fact, the claim is a prior question. The issue of deportation would not arise if we established Philippine sovereignty over North Borneo (the old name of Sabah before it was arbitrarily annexed into the Malaysian federation in 1963).

But we understand why the President had to say that. She has become a captive of advisers who fear that their incompetence would be exposed if ordered to press the claim together with other Sabah issues.

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AFRAID OF MALAYSIA: Deportation is not only a violation of the rights of Filipinos being driven from their homes, but, more importantly, also an assault on Philippine sovereignty. Yet our government pretends that it does not see this basic point.

It’s appalling: We are careful not to ruffle the feelings of Malaysians, but we don’t protest enough the wholesale violation of the rights of our own citizens. We have agreed not to mention our claim as long as the Malaysian police do not hurt the deportees.

The only explanation for this lame position is that we are afraid of Malaysia. As we said earlier, we are not ready at all — either to press the claim at the negotiating table, argue it before an international forum, or fight it out on the ground.

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DRIBBLE THE BALL: President Arroyo is spreading the burden by involving the legislators through the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council on Sabah which has lain dormant since its creation by then President Ramos. (The claim did not move during the Ramos years.)

The surest way to kill an idea is to toss it to such a top-heavy committee. Maybe that’s the idea?

Dribble the ball around until the bleachers lose interest? The span of attention of Filipinos (even media) is short. Give it another week and the public will tire of Sabah talk, including the claim.

What should be strengthened is the technical team that does the day to day research, the organization of data and preparation of documents. What the President should have revived (and expanded and appropriately renamed) is the Office of North Borneo created under Department Order No. 28 dated Sept. 6, 1967.

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NORTH BORNEO UNIT GONE: We asked for background from former Ambassador Rodolfo A. Arizala, who happened to head that North Borneo office during the golden years of Philippine diplomacy under then Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Romulo. He said the office would be of great help in pressing the claim.

Arizala also mentioned some items worth looking into:

  1. With our lack of vessels to ferry the deportees, why are we not availing ourselves of the assistance of a United Nations agency called IOM (International Office for Migration) with headquarters in Geneva where we have former Ambassador Ching Escaler as No.2 official?

He recalled that during Gulf Crisis, then Foreign Secretary Raul S. Manglapus availed himself of IOM help in repatriating Filipino workers from the area of conflict.

  1. What’s the score on persistent reports that the Malaysian Royal Navy is secretly building a modern submarine base in Sepangar, Sabah, near Kota Kinabalu? (Readers would remember this item that appeared in the column of our publisher Max Soliven.) Who is or are Malaysia’s perceived enemies?

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MANILA ACCORD UPDATE: Arizala said we should nail down Kuala Lumpur on the Manila Accord of 1963, solemnly signed by the heads of government of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia to move forward in our quest for a peaceful resolution of the claim.

Under the accord, “the three countries agreed to exert their best endeavors to bring the claim to a just and expeditious solution by peaceful means, such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration, or judicial settlement as well as other peaceful means of the parties’ own choice, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”

We can ask Indonesia, whose nationals are also being driven out of Sabah, to join us in pressing Kuala Lumpur for a return to the Manila Accord.

Mentioning at least four definite options, the pact shows that Justice Secretary Hernando Perez was way off the mark when he cited discredited documents ruling out judicial settlement and proceeded to say that the only option left for us was diplomacy.

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BACKPEDALING ON PIATCO: Malacanang appears backpedaling from its plan to take over the NAIA Terminal 3. Or it could just be buying time before it surges back to take away the almost finished airport from the control of the Cheng family.

After Special Projects Secretary Gloria Tan-Climaco drew fire with her declaration that the government would take over the terminal because the contract was onerous, Secretary Perez came in with a different line. He is talking of renegotiating the contract with the Chengs.

The Palace is playing poker, opening one card at a time and proceeding on the basis of the other party’s reaction. Why does not Malacanang just lay down one clear stand and proceed to carry it out? Because it has to worry about public opinion?

The game is tiring and it erodes the credibility not only of the government but also of media as they report the government’s shifting positions. Some sectors, mistaking the messenger for the message, could just start believing that the media themselves are confused.

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SOMEBODY IS/WAS LYING: It’s becoming obvious that some people high up in government lied, and lied big, in the early stages of the debate over the Piatco deal. The people are not being told the whole story, and the reason looks and smells commercial.

Congress itself relied heavily, if not solely, on the testimonies of such officials as then Transportation Secretary Pantaleon Alvarez and NEDA Director-General Dante Canlas, who both said under oath that the Piatco deal was above board.

In fact, Alvarez was quoted many times saying that the Piatco contract to build Terminal 3 is the “best BOT contract government has ever entered into.”

Now President Arroyo no less is saying the contrary — that it is an onerous contract and that the government is getting the short end of the deal.

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WHY DO SOLONS MEDDLE?: How come several congressmen who are not exactly known for their probity are insisting that government is wrong in attempting to correct the glaring defects of the contract? They accuse Climaco of misleading the President. Maybe it was them who were misled by Alvarez and Canlas?

In the final analysis, the President and not the congressmen will bear the brunt if the final contract turns out really lopsided. When travelers, for instance, start complaining of the $20 terminal fee — said to be the highest in Southeast Asia — the flak would hit the President, not the congressmen.

Lawmakers are questioning Climaco’s inclusion in the Cabinet committee tasked to review Fraport AG’s proposal to treat as a loan the Germans’ $400-million exposure in Piatco. But, strangely, they do not seem to notice that Canlas, who insists that the contract is above board, is also a member.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 8, 2002)

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