The world, when it was larger and not so overcrowded, was a contentious place, an arena for combat over land. Imperialistic ambitions ran rabid as empires were struck, then lost. The Romans, the British, the Germans, the Moors and Huns and Ruskies. Visions of world domination inspired the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. After all, they had stormed China and subjected the hordes there to Japanese rules, "my way or the slaughter way". Why stop there when the Emperor was descendant of God and needed to be put in his proper global throne?
Then, after World War II, the world shrank. And imperialism tucked its ugly tail between its grubby greedy legs and hobbled off to sulk. The Soviet Union imploded under the weight of a moribund economy and its restive states.
Now, international borders are frozen in place. They are well recognized and generally well respected.
The United Nations struggles to impose harmony but has accomplished one thing: a clear and widely accepted understanding that there must be global rules. And civility, to the extent man can do that.
So now we are dealing with the remnants of all the nations in the world being tossed up in the air over a thousand year span, landing where they are now, with chips and dust and stones flying about here and there.
That's what the tussle between China and the other nations rimming the West Philippine Sea, aka South China Sea, is all about. A little settling of the dust in the steady trek of history passing before our eyes like a ghost. Here then gone.
|Sabah, Malaysia (Circle)|
The Philippines has two territorial disputes on its hands, not just the one regarding oil-rich islands and China. China is the simpler one. It can be resolved by enforcing the U.N.'s 200 mile sea boundary. China must retreat from its outrageous claim to the entire sea. If the world cannot impose discipline on the Chinese, China will soon be claiming chunks of space because its astronauts are there now. China's pushy self-certainty makes Filipinos appear almost humble.
The more complex international territorial dispute is the Philippine claim to a sizable chunk of Malaysia, the state of Sabah, or North Borneo. This is directly related to the problems the Philippines is having with Muslims on Mindanao, as it is the Moro population of the Philippines that lives both in Sabah and Mindanao. Sabah is very near to Palawan and the Philippine island chain connecting to Mindanao as the map photo over there shows.
The background on Sabah
The Sultanate of Sulu agreed in 1878 to lease the Sabah territory to The British North Borneo Company in return for arms and defensive support to fight the Spanish. The Sultanate conveyed full title and rights to Sabah to the Philippines in 1962. Malaysia disregarded the conveyance and assimilated Sabah within the newly formed Republic of Malaysia in 1963, along with Singapore, Malaya and Sarawak. The Philippines broke off relations with Malaysia. An accord between Malaysia and the Philippines in 1966 expressed agreement that the residents of Sabah should be able to determine where they belonged, but it appears to have gone nowhere.
President Marcos' Army trained a team of Muslims as saboteurs to infiltrate Sabah in 1968 but the troops rebelled when they learned they might have to kill Muslim relatives. They tried to flee but were rounded up and shot. Anywhere from 28 to 200 of the men were executed by the Army in the famed Jabidah massacre. The massacre provoked angry rebellion against the Philippine government by Mindinao Muslims. Some of these rebels aligned with overseas terrorists who trained them to be really nasty in their fighting style. This in turn laid the groundwork for U.S. engagement to help put down the "terrorist" uprising.
That's where we are today. Fighting over a cause that has passed into irrelevance to mainstream Filipinos, Sabah.
Philippine presidents have not pursued the Sabah matter in the interest of building stronger commercial relationships with Malaysia. But the claim still exists. My guess is they also saw the geographical illogic of this land being part of their island nation, but were not foolish enough to concede the territory to Malaysia and incur the wrath of Mindanao Muslims.
So the dispute gets faded and tattered and irrelevant through disuse, much like China's nine-dash map. The one that says the whole sea is theirs.
The Philippines is now working actively to get Filipinos living in Sabah duly registered as Philippine citizens, with passports. There are as many as 300,000, or possibly more, migrant Filipino workers in Sabah working the farms there. According to a Wikileaks memo from the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia, Malaysia considers the farm workers, most of whom are Muslim, to be a source of potential trouble if they become politically restive. Some think there may actually be as many as 750,000 Filipinos in country illegally. This could crystallize as a huge issue if Mindanao gains greater autonomy. Muslims in Sabah may want it, too. Some Malaysian officials consider Muslim migrant workers burdens because they use social services and are prone to violence. But agricultural businesses need the workers.
I have for some time had trouble with the notion of a state within a state, as a greatly autonomous Southwestern Mindanao would be. This Sabah matter clarifies for me the risks associated with granting special rights to a given religion. If greater independence is granted Muslims on Mindanao, the demand for independence will shoot directly to Malaysia in the belief that Muslims should also control their own destiny there.
Give an inch, lose a mile. And on and on, the infestation of violence spreads.
Strange way to honor God.
I grant the Aquino Administration kudos for working quietly behind the scenes to try to strike a framework for agreement with Muslim groups that fits within the Constitution. To find a way for peace to arrive and with it, commercial development and jobs and wealth.
But I fear it won't work.
It won't work as long as those of faith believe their faith stands above other faiths or the secular state. And, therefore, non-believers are to be subjected to scorn and discipline.
What rights would a Catholic in an autonomous Muslim Mindanao have? People like Ben K and Bong V argue for a "final solution" that has the mass deportation of non-Muslims from the autonomous region. Do you realize how Hitlerian that is? Ethnic cleansing all over again. In 2012. In the Philippines.
Oh, the Philippines will work out its deal with little regard for what JoeAm thinks, for sure. But whatever they come up with will not work. And Malaysia will pay the price, too.
Face it, we will be fighting extremist Muslims until moderate Muslims take over the job of disciplining their kind, and teaching their brothers . . . and their sisters . . . the virtues of compassion and courtesy toward those who are not Muslim . . .
It is best to define the border of the Philippines clearly, a 200 mile line around the land, give up claim to Sabah like China needs to give up the ancient 9-dash map, and defend the State with guns and drones against those who are headstrong and uncivilized.