POSTSCRIPT / February 28, 2013 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Under Aquino admin, going home is a crime?

WHAT?: Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of Sulu could not believe it — that going home has become a crime under the regime of President Noynoy Aquino.

Kiram, the 74-year-old Sulu chief, had sent some 235 of his constituents led by his brotherDatu Raja Muda Agbimuddin to go home to a village by the shore of Lahad Datu in Sabah.

Why there? “And why not?” the sultan riposted, pointing out that Sabah is their ancestral home.

Finally noticing the two-week-old worsening standoff, President Aquino has advised Kiram to order his followers, some of them armed, to pull out of Sabah or “face the consequences.”

But the sultan, talking to media in his house in Taguig City, said they were staying home.

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HAPPY DILEMMA: The clock, meanwhile, is ticking closer to the deadline for them to leave Sabah. In Manila and Kuala Lumpur, diplomats scurried in search of an amicable way out of the explosive situation.

Actually, President Aquino should be secretly glad he has this dilemma. Assuming he handles it skillfully.

When people are threatened and their leader stands up to defend them, the population readily rallies around him. This is an opportunity to display concern, leadership and patriotism, especially in an election year.

President Aquiino’s problem is that he is stuck in the embrace of Malaysia — which has been insistent, suspiciously I think, on being facilitator in Malacañang’s peace dialogue with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

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SELF-DEFENSE: In a radio interview yesterday, the sultan’s brother Agbimuddin said: “We believe, ang ginagawa namin is really right. I think there is no such law against fighting for what is right.”

While he reiterated that they want a peaceful resolution of the standoff, he said that if Malaysian authorities move to disarm his men, they have no choice but to defend themselves.

He stressed that they went to Sabah not to make war, especially since they will live with fellow Muslims there.

To other residents of Sabah, he said: “We did not come here to die here, but we come here to live with them, to stay with them, to love each other and enjoy the income of Sabah together.”

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ON WHOSE SIDE?: The queer thing is that President Aquino seems to be more sympathetic to Malaysia than to the Filipinos under siege in Sabah. What does he owe Kuala Lumpur?

By his actions and statements, the President does not seem to believe in the validity of the Philippine claim on Sabah.

If he believes that the claim has merits and is worth pursuing, it is high time he officially said so like some previous presidents. What is taking him?

Maybe the President should pause from his hectic campaigning (using taxpayers’ money) for the administration Liberal Party candidates so he can study the Sabah question more closely.

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CONSTITUTION CITED: It is amazing that President Aquino, in warning Kiram, said: “You are bound by the Constitution and its laws. Among your possible violations is Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which states that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy.”

But Kiram is not declaring war on anyone. Nor is the sultan egging the Philippine government to wage war against Malaysia.

If Kiram’s constituents peaceably assembled in their homeland are attacked by Malaysian forces and they defend themselves, their self-defense cannot be construed as in pursuit of “war as an instrument of national policy.” Ang layo naman!

The President also drew the sultan’s attention to the Penal Code, which he said punishes those who “provoke or give occasion for a war… or expose Filipino citizens to reprisals on their persons or property.”

That is more like it. The Penal Code, more than Article II of the Constitution, appears more directly applicable if the conflict takes a violent turn for the worse.

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SELECTIVE ENFORCEMENT: Even to non-lawyers like the President and me, a more obvious violation of the Kiram group is illegal possession of firearms, compounded by the fact that the weapons are being carried around despite the ongoing election gun ban.

We are simply assuming that their guns are not licensed and they have no permits to carry them outside of residence. No Muslim in the South, as far as I know, bothers to secure licenses for his firearms.

And the Philippine National Police appears afraid, or at least unwilling, to check on gun-toting Muslims. The laws in this country are selectively enforced.

(Another example of the police’s selective enforcement is their tolerating the illegal numbers game of jueteng – presumably so as not to disturb the systematized collection of multi-million-peso payola for the usual protectors.)

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RENT IS PROOF: In reiterating that he is “ready to face the consequences” of his not obeying President Aquino’s order for the sultan’s followers to leave Sabah, Kiram pointed out they have not violated any law.

Kiram’s secretary-general Abraham Idjirani quoted the sultan as saying “What else do we have to prove? With all the historical facts, the sultanate of Sulu has not violated a law in allowing our people to come to our homeland.”

Idjirani said the sultan is open to negotiations. One possible compromise, he added, is the surrender of their firearms to the Philippine government and allowing the sultan’s followers to remain in Lahad Datu in Sabah.

But Kiram said he was grateful the President was beginning to look at the plight of his followers who are being barred from their own homeland.

He asked: “What more proof do you want us to show that Sabah is ours? By the mere fact that Malaysia is paying us annually in the amount of 5,300 Malaysian ringgit, is it not enough?” (That is equivalent to around P70,000.)

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 28, 2013)

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