What can the government do?-A A +A
Saturday, March 9, 2013
THE inevitable has happened. The Sulu sultan’s men are on the run, pursued relentlessly by Malaysian soldiers and policemen. It’s an uneven fight; the enemy not only enjoys numerical superiority, they have air cover from the military jets and helicopters that have earlier pounded the Sultan’s forces out of their positions.
The sultan’s spokesman said in Manila that their men had re-grouped but they are constantly moving, on foot. And they are hungry.
The Malaysian Prime Minister has made clear what he had in mind for them: “Lay down your arms or be eliminated.” As a Muslim himself, he knows the culture that requires a warrior to choose death over dishonor by surrender. He may have already sealed their fate.
In the meanwhile, the expected exodus of refugees to the Philippines has begun. Or maybe, we should call the movement, return because these are still Filipino citizens even if they have called Sabah home for the most part of their lives. Now, they have to flee back to the life they have avoided because their continued stay in their domicile of choice has become untenable.
The Malaysian government has ordered a crackdown, invoking a draconian law that makes it easy for them to invade the privacy of Filipino homes suspected of harboring the sultan’s men and to detain them on that basis alone. The United Nations has appealed to the Malaysian government for humane treatment of all those involved in or affected by the conflict. I certainly hope they would listen but I wouldn’t be surprised if they wouldn’t.
In fact, in what could be a clear indication of their hard-line policy towards the invasion, Malaysia has ignored the declaration by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of, first, a unilateral ceasefire and, then, a cessation of hostilities. Not being schooled in international law, I do not know the distinction between the two terms but it doesn’t matter for purposes of this discussion, since the Malaysians have not positively responded to either.
The question now is where/whom those affected by the conflict can turn to. For example, who will provide food, shelter, social services and employment to the evacuees? Certainly not the grandstanding politicians who tried to squeeze every inch of publicity from the Sabah issue. The government will have to step in, the same government that tried to stop the situation from getting out of hand, after they learned of the movement of the Sultan’s “troops” to Sabah, and got crucified in the process.
As for the Sultan’s warriors, they may have to fend for themselves with the help of sympathetic compatriots. There is not much that the government can do, according to Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez, except to appeal to them to lay down their arms.
“That is what we’ve been trying to ask them to do from the beginning so that further bloodshed could be avoided,” Hernandez told reporters in Manila, according to the Daily Inquirer. Echoing the Malaysian line will not make Hernandez the most popular man among the Sultan’s followers but what can he do under the circumstances? What can the government do?
I have always wondered how his nickname was spelled but never got the chance to ask him. Now, I will have to get the answer from other sources whether it was “Derrie”, or “Derry” or “Dearie” that Judge Fortunato de Gracia was called. A heart ailment sealed his lips last week though, as always, he had the last say. He was smiling. Even in death, he was irrepressible.
I would not be surprised if, when the Lord banged the gavel on him, he gave Him his best salute. Today, my dear friend, as you return to ashes, I give you mine.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 10, 2013.