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Sabah revisited

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(BY: JESS G. DUREZA) KOTA KINABALU — I haven’t been to KK for many years. But I liked what I saw when my Malaysian Airways Flight MH 803 docked on the bay bridge. (Yes folks, MH in spite of those recent tragic flights!  We don’t fly over Ukraine airspace anyway, so no worries.)   Several hours earlier, I was fumbling my way looking for Gate 16 at rundown NAIA Terminal 1 in Pasay City that was mostly boarded up for renovations. Sorry to say, but I always agonize comparing our NAIA airport terminals with other international hubs.  KK international airport at 3 a.m. early dawn arrival was still looking plush and modern. The elevated flyover and the widened highway to Sutera Resorts, less than 10 minutes away   were something new to me on this trip. Sutera resort hotels and a golf course by the bay sit totally on reclaimed grounds.

MOU & EXPO — I flew to Sabah principally to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in behalf of UNIVERSITY OF MINDANAO President Willie Torres (who was unable to leave at the last minute) with Datuk Wong of the Asian Tourism International College.  The MOU will link up the two educational institutions for exchange, partnership and complimentarity across borders. Then of course, it was nostalgic for me to be part of the private sector delegation in the biennial Sabah International Expo under the BIMP EAGA flag. The famous VILLA MEDICA GERMANY, a regenerative and anti-aging health facility specializing in Fresh Stem Cell Therapy (FCT) also set up a booth there, upon my suggestion.

BIMP ROADSHOWS — The KK metropolis had grown tremendously. Even the Sabah International Expo (SIE) that is held every 2 years has attracted more than 30 foreign-country participants, according to Ms. Susan Chang, one of the principal movers of the event. I was impressed at Sabah’s strides during a briefing done by the Sabah Economic and Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA) which I attended with former BIMP EAGA senior official Merly Cruz (who retired as DTI undersecretary) together with MINDA’s staffer Sylvestre “Boom” Sales, an agri scientist. The  MINDANAO DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY (MinDA) is our local equivalent of SEDIA.

By the way, next month  in October 22-26,  Mindanao and Palawan will also stage their own BIMP EAGA roadshow  at the SMX Convention pavilion at SM premiere in Lanang with MinDA in the lead. We hope to see the same level of participation. I got a call  from the father of BIMP EAGA,   former President Ramosthis Sunday ( he was in some  golf fairway in Manila) confirming   that he  will grace the Davao event. To him, it will be time for stocktaking and see where BIMP EAGA is, after all these years.

COMMON STRUGGLE — Strikingly  similar with Mindanao is  Sabah’s  continuous struggle  and advocacy for more attention, more resources  and affirmative action from  central government. This is  due to our common remoteness and challenging  policy issues with imperial  Manila and peninsular Kuala Lumpur respectively. For example, SEDIA said Sabah’s per capita income is only one-half that of the peninsular north. Sabah and Sarawak  in North Borneo are separated geographically from the main Malaysian peninsula although they are the two biggest federal areas situated  down south.   

There is  concerted effort to grab as much fund support as possible from national for the region’s development that still lags behind. The same is true with Mindanao.

When I talked to a native  Sabahan  who brought us around the city, he said a mouthful. He said Sabah is 50-50 Muslim and non-Muslim.  He claimed  much of the revenue- making oil and gas coming  out of North Borneo, all go to peninsular and federal  Malaysia but the back flow of funds to them in Sabah is in trickles.  That is why there is some noise about Sabah and Sarawak seceding  and wanting to be  independent from Malaysia so they can own and manage their own resources for their own people.  A campaign called “Sabah Sarawak Keluar Malaysia” is mentioned in the press. (“keluar” is exit).  But he said this is not a popular sentiment. And he is worried that if Sabah and Sarawak do leave Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei next-door are just  waiting “in ambush”  to make a grab! Both have territorial claims that pre-dated governments.  Sounds like a familiar refrain? And to think they are already federal. He also claimed  many locals believe Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is popular in the area and that the sodomy charges are trumped up by those in power for political purposes. 

SECESSION TALK — On board the plane enroute to KK, I sat up reading a Malaysian newspaper playing up stories about the recent   founding anniversary of Malaysia and some mention   about the  federal states Sabah  and Sarawak getting out or seceding  from  peninsular Malaysia. Coincidentally, when I was at Magellan Sutera hotel, I watched in my room with keen interest the on-going vote in Scotland where the Scots were deciding whether they would secede from the United Kingdom. Of course the “NO” vote won. I  recall what a  Tausug from  Sulu, a member of the Moro National Liberation Front   told me when I earlier said  I was going to Sabah. He said: “Go ahead, Sir. Claim Sabah for us! And bring it back home with you.” I had a good laugh but I could see he was serious. But then, seeing how progressive Sabah is today, we may reverse the tables and  I will not mind if  Sabah  will “claim” and merge with Mindanao instead! ( ha ha ha!) 

“VEILED THREAT”?   — Talking about secession, that reminds me. I read  the most recent  editorial posted in www.luwaran.com, MILF’s official website. It quoted MILF Chief Al Haj Murad as saying  that if Congress should eventually  pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the implementation  of the agreement should be satisfactory to the Moro, then it would  remove the reason and cause for secession. To this I agree. But then to some it could be interpreted as a “veiled threat” too; that if things go wrong, the Moro struggle will continue. I find this unacceptable.   Let’s face it. The onus of making this collective effort  succeed rests  not only on the GPH which is going all out to approximate the Bangsamoro aspiration.  It must be equally borne by the Bangsamoro and its leaders, most specifically by Kagi Murad and his group.   If something goes wrong along the way, there must be NO TURNING BACK.     The search for peace should continue,  how  hard and long it may  take,  notwithstanding.   But going back to war again   is no longer an option.  For the MILF, it already took an irreversible route.

 GOOD FATHER — Whatever the outcome of these efforts, it may be good to remind the MILF, the MNLF and others similarly situated that government is doing its best to address their aspirations and concerns. But there are limits that they should not breach. And that they should not   further test its resolve. Nor continue to threaten government. Just like a “good father of the family” (Principle of pater familias) the Philippine government will have to give enough leeway to complaining children. But then there are thresholds, when breached, will prompt the father to take out the disciplinary belt to bring them into line. — 30—




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