Bad timing kills the best-laid plans of sultans
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2013-02-21
All great endeavors become successful when these are launched at the right time. The best plans could fail if launched at a very bad time. Even the worst ideas sometimes sell if offered at the right time.

Fascism is generally considered today as a very bad political system but it became attractive to some nations in the 1930s. Fascist leaders of the 1930s — Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, most notably — brought death to over 2 million people during World War II and proved that too much power, when given to megalomaniacs with delusions of grandeur, could lead to fatal repercussions.

It is with this historical perspective that we should view the Sabah caper of the followers and kin of the Sultanate of Sulu. Had Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of Sulu and his clan undertaken their Sabah adventure at a more appropriate time, they could have achieved more impetus for their cause. At this point, Kiram’s clan could only make noise and cause irritations between the Philippines and Malaysia. They cannot realistically hope to achieve their ultimate goal of reclaiming Sabah from Malaysia.

If it was Kiram’s intention to make noise and cause irritation in order to pressure President Benigno S. Aquino III (P-Noy) to support the Sultanate’s objective, then the opposite reaction was generated. P-Noy thinks that the Sabah caper was intended to sabotage the peace process with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). Kiram and those whispering to his ears totally misjudged P-Noy. This president has never caved in to pressure or blackmail. It’s in his DNA not to. Pressured or blackmailed, P-Noy will dig in and fight back.

It’s a pity that Kiram chose the course of action that would have alienated him and his cause farther from the president. Kiram misinterpreted P-Noy’s refusal to include the Sultanate in the MILF peace process and probably thought that P-Noy was totally unsympathetic to their objective. If there’s anyone in the Philippines who could have helped Kiram and his clan get that all-important international support — it’s President Aquino.

For several months now, we’ve seen the profuse praise that the international community and media have heaped on P-Noy’s dramatic turnaround of our economy in less than 3 years since he held office. Bloomberg practically staked its reputation for providing sound business advice with all this praise it has been heaping on P-Noy.

Done at the right time, a P-Noy championing of the Sultanate’s aspiration to reclaim Sabah — or earn much better rewards for its continued lease — could have been clinched. P-Noy and the Malaysian leaders have forged a good working relationship — the MILF peace accord that was mediated by Malaysia a good proof of that.

Not only that — Kiram forgot altogether that the P-Noy government is vigorously supported by the US. The Sultanate cannot hope to attain its goal with just the intercession of the Philippine government. It helps to have a major supporter like the US when you’re negotiating. Kiram failed to realize that there’s a great deal of American interest in the forging of the MILF peace accord. Had Kiram played his cards right — at the most appropriate time for action — he could have mustered the support of the Philippines and the US.

It must be noted that in the conflict with China in the South China Sea, the Sultanate’s historical dealings with China’s Ming Dynasty enhances the Philippine position. China cannot claim that there was no government or political order here when in fact they were dealing with the Sultanate of Sulu. For this reason alone, the Philippine government would take an interest in the Sultanate’s claim over Sabah.

Kiram made his move at the worst possible time when Philippine interests are best served by an irritation-free relationship with Malaysia.
There’s no way right now that the Sultanate’s objective could be served or enhanced by causing an irritation between the two ASEAN (Association of ASEAN Nations) countries. Philippine interests are best served by pursuing the MILF accord to its final stages and good relations with Malaysia would be key to attaining this goal.

Kiram failed to see the bigger picture and resented exclusion from the MILF peace accord despite their written request. The Sultanate’s representation in the MILF peace accord could serve as an irritation to Malaysia, the key mediator. Diverse interests in the MILF peace process forced the P-Noy government to perceive the Sultanate’s proposed representation in the MILF peace accord as another stumbling block.

Filipinos must understand that our government is not necessarily adverse to the Sultanate’s Sabah claim. What happened was that this claim was resurrected at the worst possible time when a major Philippine interest —peace with the MILF — was on stream. This Sabah caper also opened the door for the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) of Nur Misuari to get into the picture and add more pressures.
Kiram should castrate those advisers of his who put him in this counterproductive predicament. Oh sure, they made a lot noise but after all that noise, did it push the Sultanate any closer to its objective? Nope, it did not. Instead, this recent Sabah episode may have added more years before this dream of the Sultanate could be revived and vigorously pursued again.

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Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

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