With the Southern Philippines inundated by “halaws" or deportees, and with reports of continued abuses on Filipino nationals in Sabah by the Malaysian security forces resulting from the standoff between Malaysia and the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, here comes the new Malaysian troops over the weekend to begin the peace monitoring duty under the International Monitoring Team (IMT).
The whole thing appears surreal and a tragic comedy. I cannot help but agree with a friend, former DILG Secretary Raffy Alunan, who posted on Facebook the following comments:
“This must be the height of our stupidity and lack of self-respect. After the President asks for maximum tolerance, after UN SecGen Ban Ki Moon asks for a peaceful resolution, after Sultan Jamalul Kiram III declares a unilateral ceasefire, Malaysia launches a disproportionate all-out attack on the Sultan's "Royal Army," we accept their troops as peace monitors and retain its services as peace mediator? NUTS! Where is our sense of self-worth and empathy for our own? Expel them and end this shamelessness now! This is unacceptable and totally outrageous!”
Malaysia’s use of the infamous ‘Internal Security Act’ (ISA) that allows Malaysian security forces to round up Filipino nationals in Lahad Datu, Semporna, Tanduo and neighboring plantations, maltreat them, and deport them as ‘illegals’ violate not only Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law but also all sense of human decency.
There is a news blackout outside the official Bernama News Agency. International humanitarian groups and foreign media are not allowed to cover the military operations as well as the rounding up of the Filipino nationals. No one can interview the victims of these operations. (GMA News is given the opportunity to take photos of the refugee camp but NOT allowed to interview refugees.) Without the presence of these independent and humanitarian agencies, there is sole reliance on Bernama News Agency.
Simply on the basis of the Human Rights convention of which both the Philippines and Malaysia are signatories, the military and police actions by the Malaysian security forces, in the language of former NSA Gen. Joe Almonte, are “UNACCEPTABLE.” It is the solemn duty and obligation of the Philippine government to protect its nationals, NO if’s and NO but’s!
Yet, the Philippine government, fearing perhaps to displease Malaysia for its role as mediator in the peace talks between GPH and MILF, would keep its eerie silence that is drowned in its earlier call for “surrender."
Why the thousands of Tausugs, Sama, and Yakan have become deportees escapes all reason and logic. These people, from time immemorial, have been crossing ‘borders’ imposed by our colonial masters when there was NONE. The so called borders have always been porous that people from the many islands of the Archipelago of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi buy their staple food, fuel, and all sorts of necessities in North Borneo.
Then, during the war of the 70’s between the GPH and MNLF, hundreds of thousands sought refuge in North Borneo and stayed there. Their presence at that time was welcome, but there was no altruistic motive on the part of then-Chief Minister Tun Mustapha. Their presence was used as a leverage of the Muslim majority in the said territory, as opposed to the opposition of the minority Native Kadazan under Chief Minister Pairin Kitingin. The real locals opposed the registration of the Moros in North Borneo, for the simple reason that this would be the only way to get the majority in the state assembly post of Chief Minister Tun Mustapha. The State Assembly was under the constant assault from the UMNO to get hold of local politics. This occurred when Chief Minister Kitingin and his Kadazan Berjaya Party joined the Barisan Nasional (UMNO). Under PM Mahathir, the non-registration of the Moros has become the ‘national policy.’
But notwithstanding the differing positions on North Borneo, the latest casualty is HUMAN RIGHTS. Malaysia has crossed the line and must be told by the Philippine Government not only to exercise ‘maximum tolerance’ but to "back off." Failure to do is not only amounting to loss of one’s face, but also ‘capitulation’ to Malaysia’s national policy.
In the midst of these reports of grave abuse of human rights, the presence of Malaysian troops in Mindanao is not only comical but also an affront to Filipino dignity and sense of national unity!
The Malaysian troops can better serve in North Borneo and monitor their own security forces in the strict observance of the Human Rights Protocol, of which their country is a signatory.
Follow Fr. Eliseo Mercado on Twitter @junmeromi.