POSTSCRIPT / October 22, 2013 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Sabah claim alive? Its bones are in Noy closet

SKELETONS: Behind the brave front of the Kiram family that the Philippine claim to Sabah is alive despite the death last Sunday of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III is the sad reality that the generations-old claim is dead, its skeleton locked in the closet of Malacañang.

The usual Palace spokeswoman, not wanting to roil further the political waters around Sabah (North Borneo), said the claim was still alive despite the Sultan’s demise, and was being “studied” per order of President Noynoy Aquino.

What she did not say was that the President could not have been pressing the claim because he has been cozying up to Malaysia, which in 1963 unilaterally annexed into its federation the resource-rich North Borneo that it has been leasing – until now — from the sultanate at a yearly rental of 5,300 ringgits (P73,000!).

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MILF DEAL: How could President Aquino displease his Malaysian friends when Kuala Lumpur has been hosting the “peace” talks between Malacañang and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front claiming to represent the Filipino-Muslim population?

Over the objections of conscientious groups, Malaysia has insisted on staying in its pivotal role as “facilitator” in the bargaining for the carving out for the MILF a Bangsamoro state in Muslim Mindanao.

The sealing of the MILF deal, assuming it can hurdle the political and constitutional obstacles, is expected to have the effect of the Sabah claim being dropped — or settled to the sovereign satisfaction of Malaysia and the proprietary satisfaction of the sultan’s heirs.

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POOR KIRAM: And how could Aquino, hungry for foreign investments, ignore the growing presence of Malaysian business interests in the Philippines and their promised involvement in the economic development of Mindanao?

In contrast, what can the family of the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram III – who had bemoaned his being the poorest sultan in the world – offer President Aquino by way of advancing peace and progress in Southern Philippines?

Besides, how could Kiram III have won Aquino’s sympathy for the sultanate’s property claims to Sabah when he was associated with former President Gloria Arroyo, Aquino’s hate-object? The late sultan was Sabah affairs adviser to her and ran in her 2004 senatorial ticket.

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NEW SULTAN: With the sultan’s death, a family problem looms on the matter of succession and forging a united front in addressing the Sabah claim.

Although Esmail Kiram II, Kiram’s oldest surviving brother, is expected to be crowned next sultan, there are family members who prefer his other brother Raja Muda (crown prince) Agbimuddin Kiram who led followers in fighting Malaysian forces bombing them out of their ancestral home in the coastal village of Lahad Datu in Sabah.

On contentious issues, the collective decision of the Ruma Bechara, a sort of council of elders/advisers, will be important. In the interim of mourning when no sultan is chosen yet, the council’s word will normally be controlling.

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THE HEIRS: Some descendants of the nine recognized heirs of the original sultan might also come forward to protect their hereditary interests.

The heirs – all members of Sulu royalty and nobility — were identified in the 1939 ruling of Chief Justice C. F. C. Macaskie of the High Court of North Borneo with then Dayang-Dayang (Princess) Hadji Piandao holding the major 3/8 share. (Dayang-Dayang, an only child, was childless.)

The other heirs included Princess Tarhata Kiram and Princess Sakinur-In Kiram, 3/16 share each; Mora Napsa, Sultan Esmail Kiram, Datu Punjungan, Sitti Mariam, Sitti Jahara and Sitti Rada, 1/24 each.

All the principal heirs have died, and there are now probably a thousand heirs of the heirs.

Then there is the probability that Malaysian interests, with their superior resources, will attempt to muddle the succession question to weaken the sultanate’s case.

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NOY’S LEANINGS?: In his decrees issued before he died last Sunday, the 75-year-old Kiram III expressed his desire to keep the family united and for the sultanate to continue what it had started.

This was widely taken to mean pursuing its claim to Sabah, and impliedly fighting for the homeland if necessary.

The Tausugs of the Sulu area, many of them warriors of the Moro National Liberation Front chaired by OIC-recognized Nur Misuari, may be a fierce force to contend with on the ground, but Malacañang’s cooperation is pivotal at the negotiating table.

What President Aquino wants and for whom his heart throbs is crucial.

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SSS MESS: After I wrote about my missing Social Security System records, a syndicate securing benefits in my name, then (to close the records) declaring me dead and having a woman pose as my widow to claim death benefits, I have been getting letters from irate SSS members.

One reader, Lilia Galace of Zambales now residing in Australia, wrote in part:

“Yours is not an isolated incident. My uncle who is now 64 has not received his pension because SSS could not find records of his membership. He worked for well-known corporations like Wyeth-Suaco, Filipinas Life and Diners Club. His name is Manolito Ramos, now a resident of San Narciso, Zambales.

“The GSIS is not any better. An aunt who is now 81 years old has been inquiring about her GSIS pension since she became eligible for pension. She worked as a school teacher in Zambales in the 1950s then became a court interpreter at the Court of First Instance in Iba and other courts in Zambales. She moved to the US years ago to join her husband. She is now 81 and has not seen a cent of her GSIS pension. Her name is Corazon Galace Felarca.

“There is one great difference between the two qualified pensioners – my aunt can afford to live without her GSIS, but my uncle cannot. This is now his only income and needs his SSS pension. How can someone with no connections get what is rightfully his?

“I was one of the lucky ones. I had been an SSS member for more than 10 years then left for Australia. But I took a loan. It must have been my saving grace.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 22, 2013)

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