POSTSCRIPT / March 18, 2004 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Malaysia: Dig out root causes of Muslim unrest

KUALA LUMPUR – While Malaysia would want to see the Philippines digging out the roots of Muslim unrest in the South instead of applying a military solution to the problem, it would not support the carving out of a separate Moro state in Mindanao.

This much was made clear Tuesday by Secretary-General Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak of the Malaysian foreign ministry in a frank discussion here of regional concerns with visitors from neighboring countries.

Fuzi said this position had been communicated to the Manila government, including President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, on several occasions.

The same concern over root causes of festering conflicts not being adequately addressed had come out also whenever Malaysia explained its not supporting the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Malaysia says in effect that instead of bombing away the problem that is Iraq, Washington should be exerting honest efforts to ferret out the root causes of terrorism and redress any valid grievances.

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ROOTED IN POVERTY: What in Malaysia’s views are the roots of the Bangsamoro’s yearning to break away from the Philippine republic?

Fuzi said poverty is one of them. He gave the impression that accelerated economic development could help make up for the accumulated neglect of our Muslim minority and possibly soothe seething resentment.

“What do you want to do?” Fuzi retorted when asked how best to handle the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. “Kill all Muslims?”

Asked about his government’s attitude toward secession, he said they opposed it.

This is in consonance, he said, with their long-standing policy of respecting the territorial integrity of their neighbors, including Indonesia which is also having a similar problem.

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K.L. A FACILITATOR: Fuzi said that Kuala Lumpur has been helping Manila look for solutions. He described his country’s role as that of a facilitator.

A Malaysian team, he said, was going to the Philippines to observe how the problems in Muslim Mindanao were being addressed. He added that the team’s work could proceed in earnest after the May 10 elections.

Fuzi expressed satisfaction that Manila appeared receptive to suggestions that while peace efforts were ongoing, authorities suspend military operations and the arrest of Muslims suspected of anti-government activities.

He disclosed that foreign investors were eager to help spur economic growth in Mindanao. He deplored, however, that Malaysian investors who had shown interest only got entangled in the bureaucracy.

On security, he said Malaysian authorities have been fully cooperating with their counterparts in Manila and Jakarta in tracking down suspected terrorists. A police officer has expressed unhappiness, meanwhile, over the disappearance of suspects turned over to Indonesia.

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PENT-UP FRUSTRATIONS: On terrorism, Fuzi remarked how some individuals were willing to die carrying out terror missions. He did not cite it, but this appeared to be the case in the Sept. 11, 2001, bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the US.

“They are not mad,” he said of the terrorists who used jetliners as suicide bombs. “It just shows the degree of their frustrations.”

Elaborating on Malaysia’s not joining the posse rounded up by President George W. Bush to get Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Fuzi said his country cannot approve of an unwarranted invasion of a sovereign state.

If the US were earnestly looking for weapons of mass destruction, he added, it should include Israel in its search. While at it, he added, the US could also find out who has been supplying them.

Malaysia, with a predominantly Muslim population, has no diplomatic ties with Israel.

A comprehensive solution to the Middle East problem, he said, should include the creation of a Palestinian nation with Jerusalem as capital.

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WHAT ABOUT NOKOR?: Fuzi noted that while Iraq reassured the world it had no WMDs, North Korea has been boasting of having them, including nuclear weapons, and threatening to use them.

If mere possession of WMD were an excuse for war, he said the US has a perfect reason to invade that renegade country north of the 38th parallel.

But then, maybe that would explain the behavior of the Texan in the White House operating as a self-appointed globo-cop.

We could not discern if Fuzi was kidding when he said maybe the US attacked Iraq precisely because it knew Baghdad had no WMDs to hit back with — but would not invade North Korea because it had WMDs that it might unleash in self-defense.

Considering the erratic trajectory of Pyongyang’s delivery missiles, Fuzi said (this time we swear he was talking in a light vein) Korea’s WMDs might just hit unintended targets. That could be really frightening!

Fuzi struck us as quite outspoken for a diplomat. We have known ambassadors and such to be niggardly in their statements. If they have to speak at all, it is mostly in generalities so as not to prick the sensibilities of other nations.

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REVERSE INVESTMENT: Malaysia did not join Bush’s lynching party that galloped to Baghdad for a “regime change,” but would it participate in the rebuilding of the war-ravaged country?

Fuzi said Malaysia would cooperate — if the rehabilitation were done under the auspices of the United Nations and only after a normal working government is put in place to run post-war Iraq.

On trade and commerce, Filipino businessmen might find interesting that while Manila is frantically trying to attract foreign investors, Malaysia is encouraging its capitalists to invest overseas.

Since the time of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister sometimes brought along Malaysian taipans to explore investment possibilities in some of the countries he was visiting.

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ADMINISTRATIVE: We were amazed by the deluge of email and text messages that came after our last Postscript (16March04) about seven Filipinos born before July 4, 1946, formally asking the US consulate to issue them US passports on the ground that they were Americans.

Their legal logic was that since they were born in what was then American territory under US jurisdiction, of parents who are also Americans (for the same reason of place of birth), they must be US citizens.

Americans, incidentally, cannot be arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship. There is a well-defined process for that. The petitioners claimed they did not go through such a process and that if there ever was one, it was conducted without their knowledge and consent.

Most of those who wrote us asked how they could join the petitioners or were asking us if they were similarly situated. As we are busy in Kuala Lumpur at the moment, we will tackle these queries when we return next week.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 18, 2004)

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