And thus, the Sabah drama unfolds
Wow, it’s been ages since I last updated. But not the even the long hours of OJT at ABS-CBN nor the stressful deadlines of articles can prevent me on giving my two-cents about the biggest headline territorial dispute since the Scarborough Issue – The Sabah Standoff. And as we meddling writers always say: What’s an exciting issue if not to write about?
I will attempt to illustrate the Sabah Issue in a teleserye. For those who are not familiar with the term, Teleseryes (Telenovela) are soap operas in the Philippines played in prime time, usually after the News programs (TV5 deviates with the popular rule as it airs a variety show, but who cares?) It mostly involves wives and mistresses locked in catfights at every scene, daughter-of-a-rich-daughter-being-separated-from-family-only-to-live-with-a-poor-but-happy-family, philandering husbands, swapped babies, lost babies and Mary Sue protagonists who had three or more photogenically cute boys fighting for her heart.
For the sake of simplicity, I will attempt to eliminate the politics, because the issue is one, messy affair. This is my attempt of bringing the issue in light, in the lightest way possible, but if you really want an in-depth history of the whole thing, go to Google and make yourself an extra-strong coffee to go with it.
Let us now meet the characters:
* SABAH – the heroine of our tale. She is the only daughter of the Sultanate of Sulu and the Sultanate of Brunei long before a Philippine Republic was born. Yet, out of poverty, Sulu has to bid her baby goodbye and entrust her to Aunt Malaysia before going off the plane and be an OFW. Sabah will then be raised by her rich Aunt Malaysia. They have plenty of heartfelt moments together, like Malaysia changing little Sabah’s nappies, tucking her into bed, singing songs to her and bringing her to school while the tune of Maalala Mo Kaya plays on the background. Malaysia showered Sabah with plenty of love, and Sabah like most teenagers may occasionally rebel against her but their relationship would always resume to normal, as they both understood how hard it is to be a mother/child.Yet she felt incomplete, like there’s a part of her that she should find, and that is her true identity.
*SULU – the poor, hard-pressed mother of Sabah. Right after her husband, Brunei, was abolished, she had to take care of Sabah on her own. Yet life is hard for the poor young mother, and she is forced to leave Sabah in the hands of the rich Malaysia, who was adopted by the Great Britain that time. Yet she promises she would come back for her daughter.
*MALAYSIA – the foster mother of SABAH. She may look intimidating, but has a warm spot for her only daughter. She is determined to keep Sabah for her sake. Yet, her love couldn’t stop SABAH from finding about her true self, and eventually her true mother.
The question remains: Where will Sabah stay? To whom does she belong?
Sabah history in a nutshell: Sabah, along with Palawan, was given to the Sultanate of Sulu by the Sultanate of Brunei as a form of gift. a British company “leased” Sabah in 1878. In return, the company will provide arms for the Sultanate to resist the Spanish forces and 5,000 Malaysian ringgints for the annual rental. The lease continues until Malaysia became a federal government with Sabah as one of the States. Until now, the Embassy of Malaysia pays the annual rent for the Sultanate family of Sulu. Since the Federal Malaysian government was formed, the Philippines under Diosdado Macapagal, had cut off diplomatic ties with Malaysia. Pres. Ferdinand Marcos attempted a vigilante mission to reclaim Sabah but it resulted into a tragedy called the Jabidah Massacre. Since then, Sabah became more of a ”forbidden” issue never to be talked about, an issue left unresolved between two countries, the proverbial Elephant in the room, until now, when the present Sultan Kiram III makes a stand against the Malaysian government by refusing to send his troops back in the Philippines.
Pres. Aquino pleaded to Sultan Kiram to send his army from Sabah back to the Philippines, dropping the bomb-phrase “Hopeless cause”. This drew the ire of the Sultan even more. And I can’t say I can’t blame him. Not that I agree with his reckless actions (Too much lives – both Filipinos and Malaysians- living in Sabah are at stake) but to say that is such an offhand manner, is a blow for the Sultan himself. Not that I’m saying we should fight for what’s ours (the issue won’t escalate into war no matter what, we Asians are in love with peace and harmony) but the least the Philippine government can do is to…attempt the Sabah issue inclined slightly on what the Sultan wants. He could say, “We would pursue the matter on ICJ” or “We would first talk this over with the Malaysian government” or anything that would make our Tausug brethren drew away from the standoff, thinking that the GOVERNMENT is at least helping them out with their claim. They would walk away not grumbling how the government betrayed them with this one.
I think with that phrase, the fate of BANGSAMORO is sealed. Muslim voice had long been forgotten in the government. They are now living independently from the sovereignty as possible. They live under their own terms. That’s why the Sultan wouldn’t want to hear what the President is saying. That’s why I won’t be surprised if they continuously express their sentiments of breaking away from the Philippines. I won’t be surprised if they accept Malaysia’s offer of becoming their state in exchange of Sabah’s return.
Sabah standoff is to be expected. It’s a timebomb waiting to explode. A problem both countries failed to foresee until the shrapnel hit them on the faces. As of to the question, whom does Sabah belong? Let us start first by referring Sabah not as a disputed territory, but a living, thriving land with people. How does this issue affect the Sabahnese? They are not just pieces of properties you can throw to one person and have them toss to another. It’s hard to imagine what are they going through with all the tension and confusion.
I believe peaceful negotiations can ease the tension in Sabah. As long as the parties involved are careful not to drop off words that could aggrieve one another, peaceful solutions will be made. I also implore my fellow Filipinos to meddle with this issue and come up with their own opinion, a reasonable sound one which doesn’t start and end with hollow cries like “Sabah is OURS!” The same goes with Malaysians. We must carefully study the issue and prevent further unnecessary escalations. (if ever war breaks out, Philippines will undoubtedly lose. However, let me tell you that these badass Tausug warriors are the bravest!)
And for the Philippine government, I’m not saying we should declare we will fight nail and tooth for Sabah. We should not feed the Sultan’s anger either. What I’m saying is, give our Muslim brethren a chance. If we continue to not care about them, to treat them like dirt and insurgents, then we may lose them in the run. If we continue to be indifferent for their sufferings, then be prepared to lose all our Muslim brothers altogether.
It will take only a matter of time.