Cartoon by Roni Santiago
Cartoon by Roni Santiago

The violence in Sabah threatens to escalate into a full-scale, widespread bloodbath.

Triggered by the recent bloody encounters between the followers of the Sulu Sultan and the Malaysian security forces, the violence had spread to other areas, and this was expected to turn worse with the reinforcement of the two opposing forces.

Reports had it that 10,000 Tausogs have sailed from Basilan, Sulu and Zamboanga, all in southern Philippines, to Sabah to reinforce the beleaguered royal army of the Sulu sultanate that is fighting the Malaysian security forces.

Since last February 9 when the royal army landed on the island, the situation had been incendiary: Both the followers of Sultan Kiram III and the Malaysian forces were armed and determined to prove the fighting words they had said were not empty.

While the Sultan’s men declared they will not leave Sabah, which is historically owned by the Sulu sultanate, until the island is returned to the Sulu royalty, the Malaysian troops were ordered to eject them.

Who should be blamed for the killings of at least 25 Filipinos and seven Malaysian policemen?

Some critics were quick to point an accusing finger at President Aquino. Others put the blame on Sultan Kiram III.

President Aquino argued that the path chosen by Kiram’s group was wrong. He said the only correct thing for Kiram’s followers to do is to surrender.

“To those who have influence and the capacity to reason with those in Lahad Datu, I ask you to convey this message: Surrender now, without any condition,” Aquino was quoted as saying by the Sun Star.

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He reiterated the government’s objective of “avoiding loss of lives.” “However, you did not join us in this objective. Because of the path you have taken, what we have been trying to avoid has come to pass,” he said.

We believe that the President’s stand on the issue is right. In the first place, it appears that the Sultan’s men intruded into the island.

While the sultanate owns Sabah, it also acknowledges that Malaysia has been renting the island for many years now. In fact, the sultanate has been receiving $5,000 in rent every year.

The analogy is that of a house being rented out by the owner to someone. The owner cannot just take over the house without giving due notice to the tenant, especially so if the latter is up to date in his payment. If he does, he would run smack into trouble.

It appears that the Sultan’s men went to Sabah to force Malaysia to turn over the island to the sultanate. Did the sultanate think that Malaysia would give up Sabah without putting up a fight?

If so, it would be a classic case of wishful thinking, if not sheer stupidity.