POSTSCRIPT / March 17 2005 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Will the genuine Sulu sultan please stand up?

RESBAK TIME: It seems that Smart Communications, the biggest (59 percent of the market) cellular phone company in town, is trying to give the newest kid on the block a dose of its own medicine.

Reacting to newcomer Sun Cellular’s cheap and unlimited 24/7 text and call service, Smart has launched its 25/8 promo also offering unlimited texting and calling to its pre-paid subscribers, including those of Addict Mobile and Talk & Text.

In its early announcements, Smart boasted that its 25/8 would not be bugged by “congested-network” problems, obviously a dig at Sun’s 24/7 service that its older and bigger rivals said was inadequate and had a high incidence of uncompleted calls.

Smart also complained to the National Telecommunications Commission that Sun’s price slash was “predatory” and that the Gokongwei-owned telecom’s facilities were not enough to assure the efficiency required by law.

Of some 33 million celfon subscribers nationwide, Smart holds more than 19 million (59 percent), leaving 12.5 million (36 percent) to Globe and 1.5 million (5 percent) to Sun. Smart earned P16 billion in 2003 and P11.6 billion in the first six months of its fiscal 2004, while Globe netted P10 billion in 2003 and P12 billion in 2004. The two giants have wallowed in windfall profits the past two years, but Sun has seen nothing but losses.

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UNHAPPY USER: Now some Smart users, one of them Max C. Austria, a manager of Sara Lee Philippines Inc. at the Filinvest Corporate City in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, are also complaining of some false starts in Smart’s promo.

Austria said in an email: “To avail myself of the benefits of Smart’s 25/8 and being a post-paid subscriber, I had to switch yesterday to a multi-line SIM (subscriber identity module) to have an additional pre-paid line. The switch was free of charge and the customer service was very good. However, to my great dismay after loading up on the pre-paid SIM line and attempting to register my number for the promo, Smart advised me this:

“‘Thank u for ur request. Due to overwhelming response, we cant complete new registrations at this time. Please try the UNLIMITED TEXT promo, text 258 & send to 883.’

“It looks to me like Smart mounted a high-profile advertising and media blitz to announce their offer to prevent its subscribers from switching to competitors, yet their system was not ready nor adequate yet. In fact, their full-page newspaper ads did not even mention dates when the promo would start and end. Di ba dapat, such promo offers should be time-bound?”

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TOUGH & TALENTED: Mamerta Block, mother of veteran newsman Nestor Mata, succumbed to cancer at age 98 last March 11 in Alexandria, a suburb of Washington, DC. Burial is set March 17 (March 18, Manila time) at the Virginia US naval cemetery.

An article on her in The Washington Post issue of March 14 said:

Mamerta Block, 98, a native of the Philippines who fought against the Japanese occupation of her homeland during World War II and later was director of a house for international visitors in Washington, died March 11 at her home in Alexandria. She had cancer.

Mamerta de los Reyes was a native of Cabiao (Nueva Ecija) and a graduate of La Consolacion College in Manila. As a young woman, she was a reporter for Commonwealth Advocate , a monthly magazine in Manila that her family owned. She also was involved in a women’s suffrage movement in the Philippines.

When the Japanese began their invasion of the Philippines, her family became swept up in events. Her second husband, Pedro Blanco, who joined the Allied forces retreating to the Bataan peninsula, died shortly after he was captured. Her father and two brothers also were killed in fighting.

She agreed to help the guerrilla forces but was caught.

“I was six months pregnant, my husband was just buried, and they took me to Fort Santiago in Manila,” she told The Washington Post in a 1991 profile. “I was tortured for three months.”

She escaped when her torturers mistook her comatose body for dead and was removed from the place in an ambulance with three corpses. When an attendant heard her heartbeat with a stethoscope, the ambulance driver took her to a church hospital, where doctors saved the baby.

She continued to do intelligence work in Manila until Gen. Douglas MacArthur helped liberate the islands. In the late 1940s, she settled in the Washington area while working as a special envoy of the Filipino Guerrilla Veterans Legion, seeking money for Filipino veterans, war widows and orphans.

Starting in the early 1950s, she spent two decades as director of the House on Nineteenth Street, a place for visitors.

She was a former president of the DC Federation of Women’s Clubs and a member of the National Press Club. She wrote a memoir, “The Price of Freedom: The Story of a Courageous Manila Journalist” (2003).

Her first marriage, to Alfonso Mata, ended in divorce. Two children from the marriage died: Wilfredo Mata in the late 1970s and Manuel Mata in 1995.

Survivors include her husband of 59 years, Isaac Block of Alexandria; three children from the first marriage, Nestor Mata of Manila, Beatriz Bartolome of Fort Washington and Emerita Capito of Tampa; two sons from the second marriage, Florentino Blanco of Manassas and Pedro Blanco of McLean; a daughter from the third marriage, Aida Gordy of Alexandria; 25 grandchildren; and 36 great-grandchildren.

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SABAH CLAIM: Not a few readers agreed with my asking why Filipinos going home to Sabah have to secure Malaysia visas first when, according to our claim, that corner of North Borneo is part of the Philippines.

While agreeing, retired ambassador Rodolfo Arizala, also adverted to my suggestion that the “Senate should look into the visa issue — before our officials sell or cede beyond recall, the disputed territory to our scheming neighbor.”

Emailing from Santiago (Chile), Arizala called attention to a joint resolution of Congress of April 28, 1950, expressing “the sense of the Philippines that North Borneo belongs to the Heirs of the Sultan of Sulu and to the ultimate Sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines, and authorizing the President of the Philippines to conduct negotiations for the restoration of such ownership and sovereign jurisdiction over said territory.”

Since the resolution has not been revoked, he said no government official “could revoke, cede sell or withdraw Philippine claim to North Borneo without the Joint Resolution of Congress revoking such claim to North Borneo.”

He agreed with us that we should avoid acts which might be interpreted as giving up the claim — such as officially endorsing that Filipinos who want to go to Sabah and work there should secure Malaysian visa.

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SULTAN WHO?: My mentioning the Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo addressing a gathering of Muslims in Quiapo elicited a rejoinder from Jude Grupe of the Knights of Rizal in Manila. He said in an email:

“There are around a few dozen pretenders to the dignity of a Sultan, coming from all parts the Sulu archipelago, Metro Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Sabah and even from the Netherlands. Each has his own fairy tale to tell to support his claim.

“In 1939 it was decided by the Session Court of North-Borneo, presided by Chief Justice Macasckie that North Borneo is the property of the nine heirs of Sulu. These were the descendants of Sultan Jamalul A’lam (signatory to the Deed of 1879 leasing North Borneo) from his three wives.

“This decision is the basis of what you ( POSTSCRIPT, 15Mar05) call the yearly rent or “Cession Money” being paid by the Malaysian government to the descendant of the heirs until this very day. (All the nine heirs now are dead.)

“A year after the Philippines gained its independence, the eldest son of Rajamuda Mawalil Wasit, Datu Mohammad Esmail Kiram I who is by the law of primogeniture the rightful heir to the throne was proclaimed a Sultan. In 1958, he and his half brother Datu Punjungan on board a Philippine navy ship went to the former Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) to settle the North-Borneo issue. They returned only having Taganak Islands (Turtle Islands), with the issue of sovereignty over North Borneo till hanging.

“It is also Sultan Mohammad Esmail Kiram I, with the help of Philippine government who initiated the 1962 Philippine Sabah claim. The newly independent Malaysia never accepted the terms of the claim since the Sultan and the Philippine government are up for sovereignty over Sabah.

“In 1915 the Sultan was forced to sign the Carpenter’s agreement with the United States, leaving him no sovereign power but was merely reduced to a symbolic leader of the people and their faith.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 17, 2005)

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