[This is the conclusion of the author’s three-part analysis of the Sabah situation. This should have come out on Saturday. An Ambassadors’ corner column by Amb. Lauro Baja will come out on Saturday.]
The stakes in the Sabah standoff are high. The timing of the attempt to reclaim Sabah by the Sultanate could not have come in the most inauspicious time. The adventure comes close to the heels of the inauguration of the Asean Economic Community or AEC in a couple of years. These days in Jakarta, Chiang Mai, Bandar Seri Begawan and other Asean capitals the cry is solidarity through regionalism. Indeed the dream of a PanMalayan community of a haven of peace and progress enshrined in the Manila Accord in 1962 is now becoming a reality.
On the economic side there is much to be said about the advantages of regionalism. We have seen how the European Economic Community has prospered under this arrangement. The same can be said about the North American and the South Asian cooperation. Moreover on the political side it is important that the Asean come up with a common stand vis-à-vis China on the China Sea dispute involving some Asean countries.
The Asean common approach on trade negotiations is obviously superior to bilateral negotiations.
President Diosdado Macapagal anticipated this when this country brokered the peace process between Indonesia and Malaysia during the Konfrontasi, in order to give life to the Maphilindo, a concept that morphed into the ASEAN. It was the Manila Accord in 1962 that decided to place the claims of the Philippine and Indonesia of parts of the island of Borneo in the back burner to be taken up at the proper time when heads were cooler. We cannot now be the instrument of its rupture. Unfortunately the British government cavalierly ignored the Manila Accord of 1962 when it designed the Federation of Malaya, which annexed the disputed territories like Sabah and Sarawak, claimed by both the Philippines and Indonesia respectively. But this is now water under the bridge and we must move on.
On the other hand it could also be said that this was perfect timing because it would be important for issues like the Sabah claim be settled between brother Muslim communities before the ASEAN family sit down to formalize the envisioned peaceful community of nations.
For the sake of justice and equity there is needed to settle the Sabah issue, we dare say that there are many ways to skin the cat, as the saying goes. Obviously the return of Sabah to the Philippines is a pipe dream. Even the Sultanate and the MNLF accept this. The de facto sovereignty exercised by Malaysia over the territory which in all honesty has been on the whole enlightened and benevolent, despite the reported ill-treatment of some undocumented Filipino migrants. Indeed Malaysian governance over the territory has guaranteed the now multi-racial population, a third of which is Filipino, democratic rule and a high quality of life. Sabah is certainly not an Iraq or Syria which was ruled by a rogue and despotic government. The Sultanate accepts this and is willing to eschew Konfrontasi as an option, even if hostilities have unfortunately already erupted.
In brief the solution to the Sabah crisis is adequate compensation!
A Bangsa sug development foundation
Former President Ramos has proposed a win-win situation and is pointing to the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines East Asean Growth Area or BIMP-EAGA. A sub-regional growth triangle it comprises of islands that a include Sabah and Mindanao.
Indeed this could be a vehicle for solving the Sabah conundrum and an instrument for just compensation for the claimants. From reliable reports it appears that this approach was discreetly discussed by the former president with his Malaysian counterpart during his tenure. The proposal which was not immediately implemented due to snafus and delays in the development of the BIMP-EAGA did not meet reportedly with objections from the other side at that time.
Indeed a win-win situation could be the creation of a Bangsa Sug Development Foundation (BSDF) funded by Malaysia. To insure that the benefits would trickle down to the intended beneficiaries the Tausug populations in the Sulu Archipelago and Sabah the development foundation could be managed jointly by ASEAN technocrats with the mission orders of increasing levels of incomes productivity and employment. This development agency would be operating under the wings of the BIMP-EAGA administration.
At the end of the day more than the issue of proprietary and sovereign rights are the well being of millions of Tausugs in both Sabah and Sulu.