By ROD P. KAPUNAN
WHAT was it that made former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Avelino Razon, now presidential adviser on the peace process, suggest that the government should invite internationally respected political figures, such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan, to serve as advisers in our peace talks with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)? Perhaps his suggestion is well-meaning, but it exposes the naivete of the former PNP chief to deal with a problem that would require diplomatic tact in handling what is essentially an internal domestic matter.
To agree with the suggestion would have the effect of changing the dimension of the problem as though there is a contentious disagreement between two states with the MILF sporting the status of a belligerent state. In which case, the Philippines could technically lose control on how to go about dealing with the rebels who, from the late 1980s when they separated from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) headed by Nur Misuari, have consistently been seeking every opportunity to obtain international recognition.
To be sure, Razon knows the grave implication just as Blair and Annan would not take up the cudgels only to broker for our interest.
Besides, even if we assume the two would accept the suggestion, this may be very dangerous because we would be giving them a free hand to put forward their recommendations, such as making permanent the present modus vivendi in many areas claimed by the MILF as its ancestral homeland. That could put the government in a tight spot. Thus, for us to reject their proposal could create a serious diplomatic breach that, after inviting them to be our advisers we would unilaterally reject their proposal.
The danger is if Blair and Annan would put forward those items that were earlier rejected by the Supreme Court after it ruled as unconstitutional the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.
Should the government bind itself to the proposals of the two eminent advisers, then we would have created for ourselves a much bigger problem. For that matter, to skip the idea of submitting for referendum what our panel may have agreed with the MILF would be catastrophic.
On the other hand, it would be equally foolhardy for the government to get them having in mind only in using their international prestige to advance our interest.
The role of these two veteran diplomats would only fit if the problem to be resolved involves two states. Nonetheless, their role as mediators would still require the consent of the contending state, which is not the case in the status of the MILF. The same question is asked of the present role of Malaysia and why the government has allowed it to act as observer and even to act as broker between the government and the MILF. Many political analysts suspect it is more to the interest of Malaysia to keep this country perpetually at war with our Muslim minority brothers than in wanting to bring about peace in Mindanao and unity to our people.
Notably, the shift in Malaysia’s attention to the secessionist movement in Central Mindanao is underscored by the fact that the Tausug-dominated MNLF have already realized that their problem is not with the Philippines, but on how to drive out the Malays coming from the Asian Peninsula from recolonizing their homeland known as Sabah after it was handed to Malaya on a silver platter by the British in 1963.
The British sought to cleverly unite Malaya, which is more than 1,000 kilometers away, from its colonies in Borneo — Sabah and Sarawak — by creating the Federation of Malaysia. From then on the Malays have been driving away the native Tausugs of Sabah by deporting them en masse in the guise of their being illegal Filipino immigrants.
The British government, as successor-in-interest to the original contract of lease entered into by Gustavus von Overbeck and by Alfred Dent through their North Borneo Company with the Sultan of Sulu, had no right to transfer the lease agreement to the government of Malaya.
The Malays belong to a different ethnic origin, and have their own culture and language. Despite that the Tausugs remain the overwhelmingly predominant inhabitants in Sabah, and many of them still have close family ties and links with the Filipino Tausugs in Sulu.
These seafarers can also be found in the islands of Sulawesi. To erase this, the Malays are now imposing Bahasa as the official language which is the language of the Malays in the Asian Peninsula.
Before the British created the federation in 1963, the Malays barely constituted 50 percent of the population of then Malaya. The rest were Chinese, Indians, Tamils, Indonesians and Thais. To counter the growing influence of the Chinese, mostly businessmen, the Malays instituted their version of South Africa’s apartheid known as bumaputra. When the British finally invented the federation, the proportionate representation of the Malays was further reduced.
Today they constitute barely 30 percent of the population in the entire federation. In Sabah, the Malays constitute a tiny fraction in comparison to the Tausugs and other native inhabitants. Despite having their land occupied by the Malays, the Tausugs still look up to Sulu as the historical center of their civilization and many of them remain loyal to the Sultan of Sulu.
It is this growing awareness that the Malays who want to call themselves Malaysians are now rushing to cultivate their ties with the Maguindanao and Maranaw-dominated MILF if only to keep us forever divided. Razon should know this.