POSTSCRIPT / March 17, 2013 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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College studes’ bigger challenge is economics

SKEWED PRIORITIES: The bigger obstacle faced by a great number of college students in the Philippines is not academics but economics.

And a government distracted by politics and skewed priorities is hardly taking notice – until last Friday when a coed despondent over her being barred from classes for failing to pay P10,000 in tuition drank poison to end it all.

The nation was jolted to the harsh policies in the public school system by the suicide of Kristel Tejada, 16, the eldest in a brood of four who had wanted to finish her studies and help her siblings gain education.

The usual officials are now rushing a policy review to avoid a repetition of the grim death of Kristel. There is theatrical weeping and gnashing of teeth, but it is too late.

Meantime, billions of pesos continue to be wasted in pork barrel kickbacks, in intelligence funds being used for partisan politics, in “pantawid” doles contributing not to productivity but to propagating a culture of mendicancy.

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THEY ARE ALLIES: President Noynoy Aquino and the Sulu sultan’s family should talk directly to each other if both parties want a mutually satisfactory resolution of the Sabah question.

It is high time Malacañang and the sultanate regarded each other as allies and adopted a common approach in discussing with Malaysia the Sabah problem before more lives and livelihood are lost.

Both parties must accept the fact that they need each other, and that they bear the shared burden of looking after the 800,000 or so Filipinos who have settled in Sabah and other Malaysian states.

Without a common game plan, both President Aquino and the Kiram family will be heavy losers in this high-stakes game with a cunning Malaysia.

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WHY NOT TALK?: President Aquino has journeyed abroad just to talk to a Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader and hand him a large sum. The President also finds time to talk to his opposite number in Kuala Lumpur.

Why then cannot the President talk personally to the heirs of the Sulu sultan? I have a feeling they are just waiting for President Aquino, the nation’s father, to call and embrace them.

Instead of issuing cold statements and sending emissaries, the President can summon (if “invite” is too weak a verb) all the heirs and talk to them in earnest in the Palace.

That should not be too difficult, unless the President is afraid that such a move might offend Malaysia.

But why should our President be held hostage by the fox in Kuala Lumpur?

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ONE FAMILY: The Kirams are a house divided? Precisely, a high-level family dialogue with the President might just force a resolution of the family squabble.

Is the core of the problem money? The President can find out directly and privately from them — and offer solutions.

The President must pound into their heads that without the Philippine government, recovering Sabah from the overstaying and overbearing tenant will be extremely difficult.

As in the conclave that elected the Pope, the heirs should not leave the premises until they have elected and pledged to support their sole Spokesman on Sabah matters.

Suppose some of the heirs are absent? Then, without proper proxies, the meeting is called off. It has to be all of them, or none at all.

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QUESTIONS: The Kirams may have historical and legal basis for claiming certain rights over Sabah, but since they admit being Filipinos they should pursue their claim within the functional sphere of the Republic.

Offhand, many of us spectators have several basic questions:

• Are the Kiram heirs claiming sovereign or property rights over Sabah, or both? What is the Philippine claim, if any?

• If they are still claiming sovereign rights over Sabah, is that sovereignty subordinated to Philippine sovereignty? Does the sultanate of Sulu (and Sabah) consider itself part of the Philippine republic?

• Where is the contract by which the original Sulu sultan leased (padjak) Sabah, then North Borneo, to Britons? A readable certified true photocopy should be published in the media.

• Malaysia’s lease payment check(s) is/are “pay to” whom? If the check is payable to one of the Kirams, that could be an implicit recognition of who Malaysia recognizes as the chief heir of the Sulu sultan. Let us see copies of the checks.

• Is President Aquino willing to stand as the sultanate’s attorney in pressing its property rights?

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LIBRENG TAWAG: In Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, Globe Telecom has put up “Libreng Tawag” phone centers to enable Filipino evacuees escaping from Sabah to call family members and friends for free.

“Most of our Kababayans arriving from Sabah in batches don’t know anyone in the area,” Rob I. Nazal, head of Globe Corporate Social Responsibility, said. “We want to give them at least some moments of comfort by getting them connected with their loved ones.”

The Libreng Tawag booths are in the Red Cross office in the two provinces as well as in the Mahardika Institute of Technology in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. The booths will be on standby from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily for a week.

Hundreds of Filipinos who had fled Sabah and taken refuge on the Turtle islands arrived in Tawi-Tawi recently on a Navy vessel. There are more than 1,400 in the evacuation centers in Cenderawasih, Embara Budi, and Fajar Harapan in Felda Sahabat.

More of them are expected to cross to Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and nearby islands as Malaysian forces continue harassing undocumented Filipinos in Sabah. Some of them have complained of physical abuse.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 17, 2013)

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