Sabah standoff-A A +A
Friday, February 22, 2013
THE standoff in Sabah calls to mind lines from one of my favorite poems by Irish poet William Butler Yeats. In “The Second Coming” Yeats painted this image: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”. But instead of causing dread or cynicism, the situation to me invokes a sense of challenge and inspiration.
Claiming it to be a “journey back home”, followers of the Sultanate of Sulu including armed members of the Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo went to and occupied an area in Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia. The Malaysian police and special forces swiftly surrounded the group (media reports of the number are in the range of 100 to 1,000) and the two forces have been in a standoff since February 11. It appears that the Sultanate action was meant to press its claim over Sabah and was said to have been triggered by the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
Malacañang made it clear that the expedition had no approval from the Philippine government and also assuaged fears that there would be negative effects on the peace process with the MILF.
It must be discomfiting for the central government to be pulled by the Sulu Sultanate, a group that is currently not recognized by any state as a sovereign entity, into a tension that can erupt into a full-blown rift between countries. At a time when Malacañang has to rally and lead not only the entire government but also the whole nation into supporting the successful conclusion of the peace process with the MILF, the action of the Sulu Sultanate is understandably jarring. By these indications, it does seem that the falconer’s voice is not heard and the centre’s ability to hold is suspect.
That the Sabah situation has been viewed with indifference by some quarters and regarded by others as a stunt, an act of adventurism and even an invasion underscore the importance of getting people informed and involved.
Many do not understand the historic claim of the Sulu Sultanate over Sabah and the complex issues that underpin it such as a) the tensions between mainstream government and traditional governance systems like the Sultanate, b) the legacies of colonialism (through the 1885 Madrid Protocol the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany recognized the sovereignty of Spain in the Sulu archipelago in light of its abandonment of claims over North Borneo or Sabah), c) Southeast Asian history (the importance of Sabah to the rise of Malaysia, the formation of the Federation of Malaysia and the subsequent departure of Singapore), and d) Philippines-Malaysia relationship (this would likely touch on the fate of the halaw, who are Filipinos who illegally entered Malaysia and are subject to deportation, and the so-called stateless, Filipinos born in Malaysia to long-term halaw parents).
How then do we generate interest and involvement from the rest of the population so that the Sultanate’s claim to Sabah is not seen as a relic of the past and only relevant to a handful, but a contemporary issue that concerns Filipinos?
It would be a shame if looking back years hence we would find ourselves agreeing that these lines also by Yeats aptly describe the situation “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.”
What a pity if the standoff results in bloodshed or in discourse that is heated yes, but is not understood by and neither resonates with citizens.
In March 1968 a congressman from Davao Oriental delivered a privilege speech on the floor of the House of Representatives titled “Sabah is Philippines”. On a personal note perhaps it is high time that I understand why and how so, come to my own conclusions about the matter, and correspondingly take action.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 23, 2013.