(First published in The Philippine Star issue of Mar. 5, 2013)

OWNER’S FATE: What the ailing Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram III and his followers want is a president who has it in his heart to embrace them as their protector, not one who publicly castigates them and leaves them to the mercy of a neighbor pretending to be friend and peace broker.

This is my reading of the 74-year-old Sulu sultan grieving for his followers who had gone home to their ancestral home in Sabah only to be massacred by forces of Malaysia, which is just renting for a pittance the resources-rich land of the sultanate.

Here is a situation where the property owner is barred by the tenant and threatened with violence. To his dismay, the owner is then scolded by the President who, by all indications, happens to be a great friend of the tenant.

When on the campaign trail the President noticed the worsening standoff, he told Kiram to order his followers to pull out of Lahad Datu town, Sabah, or “face the consequences.” The presidential admonition was ignored.

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PUBLIC SCOLDING: After Malaysian forces attacked the sultan’s followers on March 2, killing 11 of them and wounding several others, President Aquino scolded them for not heeding his advice to return to Sulu. He said:

“To our citizens in Lahad Datu, from the very start our objective has been to avoid the loss of lives and the shedding of blood. 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.

“If you have grievances, the path you chose was wrong. The just, and indeed, the only correct thing for you 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 conditions.”

It was naïve of the President to think that on his mere say-so Tausug fighters would surrender and abandon their homeland. If it were Noynoy Aquino, would he run away, his tail between his legs?

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ON WHOSE SIDE?: President Aquino should decide once and for all if he is for Malaysia or his fellow Filipinos, and then walk the talk.

Of course the President has to maintain friendly relations with Kuala Lumpur even when it is clear that the cunning Malaysians – aided by British and American official operators -- are pulling his leg.

How we wish the President were sophisticated and patriotic enough to find ways, even on the sly, to help his people against foreign interlopers.

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LOCAL FURY: It must be difficult for the Sulu sultan to be fighting on two fronts: in Sabah and in Manila.

It is incredible, but Malacañang is reportedly marshaling its political assets and resources to force the sultan to submit.

Local Muslim leaders are reportedly being asked to speak up against the sultan and pressure him to order his followers in Sabah to surrender. Several charges are being prepared against him and his men. Research is being conducted on how to find holes in the sultan’s claim. His close kin are reportedly being encouraged to contest Jamalul’s primacy among the heirs.

Even his medical treatment, which includes thrice-a-week dialysis, is suddenly of interest. President Aquino himself mentioned yesterday that the sultan is being helped by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office in his treatment.

With such local fury swirling around him, the sultan does not need Malaysia to subdue him.

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GENEALOGY: How far is Malacañang willing to go to please Malaysia and cripple the sultan and his immediate family?

One detail hurriedly being researched on is the sultan’s genealogy. Do not be surprised if such probing concludes that Jamalul Kiram III is not the legitimate chief and spokesman of the heirs and therefore lacking authority to order the sultanate’s constituents to go and claim Sabah.

As a Filipino, how I wish Malacañang would concentrate on strengthening the Philippine claim instead of discrediting it. I wish Malacañang would help the sultanate’s cause promptly instead of waiting first for a cue from Kuala Lumpur.

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SULTAN’S HEIRS: This is not the full and final word on it, but here are some notes from a backgrounder written by Amina Rasul, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, and board member of the Mindanao Development Authority. She writes:

“The legally recognized owners -- members of Sulu royalty and nobility -- were identified in the 1939 ruling of Chief Justice C. F. C. Macaskie of the High Court of North Borneo: Dayang-Dayang (Princess) Hadji Piandao was acknowledged as the major shareholder with 3/8 share.

“Princess Tarhata Kiram and Princess Sakinur-In Kiram were to each have a 3/16 share. The six other heirs who went to Macaskie’s court were awarded 1/24 share apiece: Mora Napsa, Sultan Esmail Kiram, Datu Punjungan, Sitti Mariam, Sitti Jahara and Sitti Rada.

“Princess Denchurain acknowledged the nine heirs specified in the Macaskie decision as the true heirs of Sabah.

“All the principal heirs have died. As of today, there are probably a thousand heirs of the heirs. Dayang-Dayang Hadji Piandao Kiram, an only child, was childless. Therefore her cousins, nieces and nephews will divide her 3/8 share.

“Among her cousins was my grandmother, Hadja Salma, wife of Sen. Hadji Butu. Thus, my father, the late Ambassador Abraham Rasul, and his siblings and cousins are heirs. Misuari’s wives (Desdemona and Ruayda), are heirs. Jamalul III and Esmail are the children of Datu Punjungan.”

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