What was in that letter so that Sultan Jamalul Kiram III could say that had the President paid attention to it, he and his followers would not have taken matters in their own hands?
It was lost not in translation but in the appreciation of its urgency and significance.
That is what happened to the letter sent to President Aquino in 2010 by Agbimuddin Kiram, crown prince of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, expressing his clan’s stand on the Philippine claim to the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah and the peace process in Muslim Mindanao.
After congratulating and expressing his clan’s support for the new Aquino administration, Agbimuddin informed Aquino about the creation of the Interim Supreme Royal Ruling Council (ISRRC) under the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo as a result of the series of consultations in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi; KM-4 Indanan, Sulu; and Kawit, Zamboanga City, on June 20, 25 and 26, 2010.
There is probably another reason why the letter got lost in Malacañang.
The letter was dated June 28, 2010, two days before Aquino took his oath as President. Technically, then, he was not yet officially the sitting President.
The letter was coursed through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) but since Secretary Teresita Deles had not yet assumed office at the time, another officer there received the letter and it was this officer who decided it was “not urgent.”
Dismissed as such, the letter was relegated to the pile of papers deemed not needing presidential attention.
The Opapp officer who made the decision was considered an expert in Muslim affairs.
After the Sabah standoff began three weeks ago and the letter was mentioned in the early reports of the Inquirer, a source in Malacañang said the President inquired about it. Aquino was reportedly disappointed to learn that no one kept the letter or a copy of it.
The same source, who asked not to be identified, quoted the President as saying: “Next time, when a letter is addressed to me, give it to me so I can read it.”
Specifically, Agbimuddin in the letter asked for guidance from the new President on what course of action the ISRRC should take, especially involving the Sabah claim.
“With highest esteem, may we inform His Excellency that during the consultation process, we asked our supporters what action, under the guiding light of your administration, the ISRRC of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo would take or adopt anent the Sabah issue, which became the national contract between the government of the Philippines and the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo pursuant to the filing of such claim in the United Nations against Great Britain and Malaysia in 1962,” Agbimuddin said.
Anticipating Aquino’s participation in international forums such as the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders’ summit, Agbimuddin stated his clan’s position on the Sabah claim to guide the President in discussions on the issue in meetings with representatives of Malaysia.
Agbimuddin wanted Aquino to articulate two points for the clan: The special power of attorney given by the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo to the Philippine government was revoked in August 1989 for lack of political will to push forward the claim by previous administrations from the time of then President Diosdado Macapagal, and the ISRRC had been legally established instead, taking over all actions pertinent to the Sabah claim.
Agbimuddin was appointed chairman of the ISRRC by his elder brother, the sultan, in June 2010.
Ignored for five decades
Abraham Idjirani, secretary general and spokesman of the sultanate of Sulu, said the appointment of Agbimuddin as ISRRC chairman was the basis for the crown prince’s exercising “authority” over Sabah, thus the six-hour “journey back home” to Sabah on Feb. 11 (most reports date the Sabah trip to Feb. 9).
In his letter to Aquino, Agbimuddin expressed his clans’ exasperation at being ignored through five decades of the discussions of the Sabah claim.
Agbimuddin said the heirs of the sultanate suspected that vested interests in the previous administrations were behind the claim’s being denied the attention it deserved.
The letter ended with the clan’s expression of hope of seeing “a change in the treatment of the Sabah issue” under Aquino’s administration.
Agbimuddin also said any treatment of the Sabah claim must be “consistent with the laws of the Philippines” and in consideration of the sultanate’s “legal, historic rights, cultural traditions and heritage.”
First united decision
Jamalul himself wrote to the President in 2011 and in 2012. When the sultanate received no response, the Kiram brothers met in November last year and agreed to the issuance of a “royal decree” authorizing Agbimuddin’s journey home to Sabah.
Idjirani said it was the first united decision of the Kiram brothers.
“They may have argued many times on policies and actions but the sultan and his brothers were never at odds as to their stance that Sabah belongs to the sultanate of Sulu,” Idjirani said.
First posted 12:07 am | Friday, March 1st, 2013