MNLF chairman Nur Misuari’s recent meeting with President Duterte has given new life to the President’s initiative for federalism. With the action oriented Duterte of Mindanao it is hopeful that the different groups will return to the table to jointly find solutions to achieve peace in Mindanao.
President Duterte has proposed a federal system to unite the Mindanao with Sulu and Palawan included (Minsupala) Whether this new initiative will succeed requires patience and the willingness to compromise. It will be difficult but as the saying goes where there is a will there is a way. There will be no winners in a war that has killed thousands unless we adopt this attitude.
The MNLF leadership is especially poised to achieve this unity. It has always recognized the 1996 GRP-OIC-MNLF Jakarta Peace Agreement and the 1976 Tripoli Peace Agreement as the benchmark of just and lasting peace that most of the Luzon-based political leaders had repeatedly betrayed. We now have a leader from Mindanao who has a consciousness of Mindanao’s history and a personal link to the problem. Is the MNLF proposal for the “Bangsamoro Nation” pledged by President Duterte to address the “injustices” done by the Manila-based colonizers? The MNLF proposal for a one MINSUPALA Federal State will include in its enclave the MILF-proposed BBL, comprising of the present ARMM areas and other Muslim municipalities and villages.
Nur’s MNLF will no longer submit its proposed ARMM amendatory law. Instead it will push for federalism instead.
There is a need for many of us Christians from Luzon and the Visayas to know the background of the Sultan’s brave attempt to get back Sabah. It may seem futile but it has forced us to know and understand what Mindanao and its conflicts are all about.
That is in itself a considerable victory because the ignorance of a greater part of Filipinos about Sabah is a major block and for this we salute the men who lost their lives that we may be made aware. Thank you for the gift of awareness. That is also true for the rest of the world who would not have known what the Sabah issue was all about.
The best source of information on the Philippine Sabah claim comes from Sen. Jovito Salonga’s reply to Senator Lorenzo Sumulong when the two debated the issue in Congress in 1962. I have already quoted Salonga in a column but I repeat it today with the issue of peace perking up under Duterte.
Here is how I understand it: Salonga was hopping mad when Sumulong contradicted the government’s stand on the Sabah claim, hence he painstakingly crafted a point by point reply that has come down to us for our guidance at this time.
“Thousands of years ago, what is now known as the Philippines and what is known today as Borneo used to constitute a single historical, cultural, economic unit. This is confirmed by scientific studies of land bridges. Indeed Borneo is only 18 miles away from us today. North Borneo, formerly known as Sabah, was originally ruled by the Sultan of Brunei. In 1704, in gratitude for help extended to him by the Sultan of Sulu in suppressing a revolt, the Sultan of Brunei ceded North Borneo to the Sulu Sultan. This is where the claim comes from.
But he was acknowledged by various European countries, among them Britain, Spain and the Netherlands as the sovereign ruler of North Borneo and entered into various treaty arrangements with him.
But in 1878, the Sultan leased Borneo to an Austrian, Baron de Overbeck for Malayan $5,000 (roughly equivalent to a meager $1,600), He later sold the lease contract to Alfred Dent, an English merchant, who established a provisional association and later a Company, known as the British North Borneo Company, which assumed all the rights and obligations under the 1878 contract. This company was awarded a Royal Charter in 1881 but the British Government confirmed in reply to critics of its appropriation that “sovereignty remains with the Sultan of Sulu” and that the Company was merely an administering authority.
In 1946, the British North Borneo Company transferred all its rights and obligations to the British Crown.
In 1962 the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution urging the President of the Philippines to recover North Borneo consistent with international law and procedure. Acting on this unanimous resolution and having acquired all the rights and interests of the Sultanate of Sulu, the Republic of the Philippines, through the President, filed the claim to North Borneo.
It accused the British Crown of disregarding the contract of 1878 and their solemn commitments when it turned over Sabah to Malaysia. Nothing could be clearer if we are to follow the rule of law. But that is not what happened and through the years of Philippine government neglect in pursuing the claim and the arrogance of Western nations, it became “dormant.”
But it is not about the claim alone. We are told that the MNLF and the Sultan’s group feel left out of the Malaysian sponsored MILF-GRP peace agreement that would give MILF the upper hand in governing Moroland in Mindanao. Some say Malaysia did not want the MNLF and Sultanate included precisely because of the claim. So Sultan Kiram had to move boldly so the claim would not be swept under the rug.
The complexity of the problem comes from our inability to forge national unity. Had we a stronger state, GRP should have been able to manage a peace formula that would include the MNLF, MILF, the Sultanates, the Lumads and the Christians.
There would have been no need of Malaysia, the US or Britain to sponsor a peace agreement on what was essentially an internal conflict. But with the Sultan activating the Sabah claim, the Malaysian sponsored peace agreement has hit the shoals.
Here also important background for any negotiations for peace. Datu Jamal Ashley Yahya Abbas, a Muslim scholar wrote “GRP-MILF as quests for identity”.it is a mistake to look at the problem in Mindanao as if it were about the Muslims alone. His perspective for a solution includes non-Muslims, more so of Christians, colonized then and now. We had a common cause against colonialism.
A group of Moro politicians once sought the advice of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Bangsa Moro. He replied why Bangsa Moro only?
What about Bangsa Malay? That would be the wide swath of Malayland – Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia (With the threat of ISIS using the narrow borders of the three countries as their routes this idea has become feasible.)
We now have a strong man with Duterte. But is this a challenge that Duterte would be willing to take up?