(First published in The Philippine Star issue of Mar. 12, 2013)

WHERE’S MILF?: There is nothing but deafening silence from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that Malacañang recognizes are the voice and representative of the Muslim population.

At this time when Filipino Muslims are being violently uprooted from their homes in Sabah, their supposed voice and protector should at least say something, if it is too confused to do anything.

It has been a month since Malaysian forces began to hunt down armed followers of the Sulu sultanate who had settled in Lahad Datu in Sabah, claiming it as their ancestral home.

Innocent Filipino Muslims in other towns have been caught in the turmoil, forcing many of them to sail back to Sulu. The MILF is unaware of all this?

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OUCH!: It seems it is beginning to hurt.

With his younger brother Agbimuddin on the run with his decimated “royal army,” and hundreds of Tausugs in Sabah being harassed, Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram III has allowed another brother to talk peace.

Sultan Bantillan Esmael Kiram, brother of Jamalul, met yesterday with Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas to find a face-saving end to the hostilities in Sabah.

Esmael said that his brother Jamalul knew about his talking to Roxas. After their meeting he said he was satisfied with the results.

Roxas still had to report yesterday to President Noynoy Aquino the substance of their talks, but confirmed that the Kiram family has opened dialogue with the administration to resolve the impasse.

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KIRAM NOTES: In a press conference after meeting Roxas, sultan Esmael said in the presence of members of the Kiram family:

• It is not true that President Aquino is not doing anything to solve the Sabah crisis. Esmael said he came to Manila on the assurance that President Aquino would talk to the Kirams.

• Although the President failed to receive them as they were made to understand by Malacañang runners, the Chief Executive sent his emissaries, the latest being Secretary Roxas, to talk to them.

• Confirming reports that Muslims in Sabah were being maltreated (“being treated like animals”), he appealed to Malaysian leaders to dialogue directly with the sultanate as Muslims talking to brother Muslims.

• The Kiram clan is solid and speaks with one voice. But they defer to their eldest brother Jamalul, 74, who had allowed their brother Raja Muda (crown prince) Agbimuddin Kiram to lead more than 200 of their followers to settle in Sabah.

• Agbimuddin did not go to Lahad Datu in Sabah to wage war, but to live in peace in their ancestral homeland. Esmael had not talked to him the last five days and did not know exactly his situation.

• The Kirams will stop their womenfolk, such as Jumalul’s daughter Princess Jesel, from speaking for the family on Sabah issues. Esmael said it is against Islamic law and women tend to be emotional when talking on sensitive subjects.

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BETTER TO TALK: Meeting separately with some media members, Roxas said:

“Talk is better than no talk. Maraming pag-uusap na nangyayari sa iba't ibang mga levels, sa iba't-ibang mga paraan at magmula nung Feb. 11, nung nagsimula ito hanggang sa kasalukuyan ay patuloy na nagkakaroon ng mga pag-uusap sa iba-ibang mga level.”

He disclosed that before the clashes last March 1, Malaysia requested that Esmael help mediate with his clan to peacefully end the standoff.

“Sinikap ng pamahalaan na madala siya (Esmael) dito sa Manila, makapag-usap sa kanyang kapatid at kung kinakailangan ihatid kung sa Brunei o sa Kota Kinabalu, kung saan man magkakaroon ng pag-uusap subalit hindi na nangyari itong pag-uusap na ito,” he said.

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ETO NA NAMAN: The last two presidential appointees sent to complete the Commission on Elections declined their appointments even before they could take their seats.

The President made a mistake signing their papers? What was the screening committee doing? Or was it overruled by Liberal Party lobbyists who want to stuff the Comelec with their people?

Well, at least former Lanao del Sur Rep. Macabangkit Lanto, one of those who had declined their appointment to the poll body, did not do a Padaca.

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PADACA CASE: Former Isabela Gov. Isabela Grace Padaca accepted her Comelec appointment with alacrity, then used the immunity granted to members of constitutional bodies to insist on the dropping of old graft charges against her.

Lanto not only was removed from his congressional seat for alleged electoral fraud and had in fact, according to Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., another poll case.

The President, assuming he or the LP wanted Lanto that badly in the Comelec, could have also vouched for the innocence and integrity of Lanto – as he did in the case of Padaca. But he has not insisted on Lanto’s appointment.

In his letter to the President dated March 9, Lanto said his decision was based “in large part to the controversy that surrounded my appointment.”

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LAGMAN & RAFANAN: The President’s other appointee to the Comelec, election lawyer Bernadette Sardillo, also declined the position.

Lanto and Sardillo were supposed to take the seats of retired Comelec commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Armando Velasco.

The Comelec Employees Union renewed its call for the appointment of insiders for the vacancies, namely: Alexander Pilotin, Comelec Region II Regional Election Attorney, and Ferdinand Rafanan, Comelec Planning Department Director and Chief Comelec Prosecutor for Election Sabotage cases.

My opinion will not matter, but I prefer Rafanan and IT expert Gus Lagman who can bring the much-needed technical knowhow into the Comelec, considering the shift to automated elections.

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