What can the President do?-A A +A
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
THE reports vary, but at the very least 20 combatants from both sides have already died in the escalating conflict in Sabah. The figures, I am afraid, could go higher unless both the Malaysian government and the Sultan of Sulu can find a common ground to call a ceasefire.
That doesn’t seem possible at this stage. Agence France Presse reported yesterday that Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is facing mounting domestic pressure because of the standoff, has dispatched two army battalions to Sabah “to root out the intruders.”
Meanwhile, reports from Sulu said a number of Filipino Muslims have crossed to Sabah to reinforce Sultan Jamalul Kiram’s ragtag force. Moro National Liberations Front (MNLF) chief Nur Misuari has acknowledged that many of the reinforcements were his men although he clarified that they were not there as MNLF soldiers but as relatives of the besieged men of Kiram.
Our Muslim brothers are in Sabah to reclaim a part of the island for the Sultanate. It is a patriotic mission. The Malaysians, for their part, regard them as intruders and want them ousted but Kiram’s men said that they’d rather die. Peace doesn’t appear to be possible.
His critics blame President Aquino for the unfurling tragedy. They say that he has not done enough to pursue the Sulu Sultan’s claim and that he’s not doing enough to keep the Sultan’s men from harm. But realistically, what can Aquino do?
He does not hold the key to the solution to the standoff. Malaysia and Kiram do. Will the Malaysian government agree to submit the Sabah question to the United Nations?
Or at the very least, will they commit to the Sultan of Sulu that they will sit down with the latter to find a just and lasting solution to the age-old conflict?
On the other hand, is Kiram willing to order a pullout from Sabah? Will he listen to pleas to spare his people from certain decimation and order them to clear out of Sabah without getting as much as promise of an honorable settlement of his people’s claims?
Maybe, Aquino should, as someone suggested on Frankahay Ta! yesterday morning, reach out to Kiram by visiting him personally instead of just of relying on his emissaries to deliver his message of goodwill and concern. Maybe, he should reassure Kiram that his people can come home and not worry about criminal prosecution. Maybe, he should promise the Muslim leader that he will henceforth pursue the government’s claim on Sabah with more vigor.
Then what if the Muslim leader says no to him? What power does he have to stop the bloodshed in Sabah? Will the President’s critics please tell us how they could have done better if they had been the ones in power?
It is easy to criticize especially if it is election time. One of the most vocal in condemning Aquino’s handling of the Sabah situation is senatorial candidate Mitos Magsaysay. A staunch Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo loyalist, she has been attacking Aquino since day one of his administration.
She let up a bit when she was named to the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) Senate ticket, obviously in keeping with the UNA’s initial stance that it is not an enemy to the administration. When the surveys showed that her campaign was not going anywhere, she resumed her attacks. Let’s see if the strategy is going to work.
I also would like to listen to her say what she would have done about the Sabah standoff if she were the President.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 05, 2013.