“Your last posting sounds so…”
“Racist?” I tried to offer an answer to a colleague’s hesitation (see the last posted article, The Piracy Business in the Sulu Seas.)
“No, I was about to say, ‘harsh’. You are proposing that we—the governments of Malaysia, Phillipines and Indonesia—band together, to attack the Sulu and Moros in their heartland? At their homes? That will annihilate them, completely.”
“Precisely. The best way to put off fire from spreading, is to pour water at its root.”
“But we are not like them. We are better than these no-good pirates,” my colleague insisted.
On the contrary, we were once feared pirates ourselves. We came from many generations of feared lanuns ourselves. Though, not half as brutal.
It is only after 300 years of colonization that we changed. After independence, we have had better access to education and better living conditions. Western materialism overwhelmed us. Post-independence Malays started collecting material assets and to retain those assets, we have to ensure continued political peace and stability.
Unfortunately, the Moros weren’t properly taken care off by the Philippines government. They were left on their own, without much help from Philippines Christian government. Their government is not as sensitive to the Muslims’ needs (cleanliness, call for prayers, man-woman relationship, forbidden animals, kosher food, etc), as we are to non-Muslims.
Therefore, the Moros have to insist upon total autonomy or better still, full independence, so as to enable them to live under an Islamic way of life. They have nothing, owned nothing; and the most precious struggle to a Moro, is freedom. Freedom, so that their children and the children after them would be able to live a full Muslim’s life.
Malaysian politicians, being Muslims themselves, understand those needs. That’s why we have, to a certain extent, lend support to their cause, and even offered financial aid to them. But the Moros know no gratitute. Their own existence and survival take precedence above all others.
Actually, the Philippines is a naturally-rich country, with more than 80 million strong population. She owns over 7000 islands, most of which are rich in natural resources. If only the country can rid herself from years of civil wars (insurgency), corrupt officials and better manage her uncontrollable population growth (consequently, social ills), she would have a brighter future. In fact, she has a potential to be in the same rank as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
But because the Philippines government have to continually spend a major portion of her income on domestic defense (to tackle the Moro’s insurgency), less fund are available to increase her people’s standard of living. It is a classic chicken-and-egg situation.
How to tackle the Sulu problem?
Awarding Sabah or any other continent, for that matter, to the Philippines would be, as a Malay idiom succinctly puts it, “like giving a monkey a diamond ring“. If the Philippines does not know how to ‘jump start’ her economy with the existing 7000 resource-rich islands, an additional island or continent would not bring her any good.
So, how do we solve the Sulu problem? Thus far, the international community have offered both diplomacy and kindness to the Sulu. Neither seems to work.
In my opinion, there are two ways to solve the Sulu problem. One is, as I have suggested earlier, via the use of military might. A Moro may be a fierce fighter and pirate, but he can also be turned into an obedient ‘slave’, once captured or overpowered.
The other way, is to introduce ‘materialism’, via economic wealth and education. Malaysia had, in the past, helped brokered ‘development aids’ to the militants, so that they could build schools, better roads and infrastructure; instead the rebels had used the ‘development aid’ to buy more arms.
This second, more formidable method (suitable for anti-war proponents) is to develop its natural resources, and at the same time, to fully utilize the funds retrieved thereof, for the development of the Moro/Sulu people.
Money from oil exploration off South Palawan, for instance, could be used to contruct more schools within the Sulu islands. And agriculture or pearl cultivation businesses could be commercially developed, for the betterment of the island people of Sulu.
These development monies, nevertheless, must not be given to any of the rebel leaders, but instead spend directly towards the construction of schools, roads, public infrastructure, etc. Administrative jobs need be created to enrich the islanders, directly, without interference or support from any rebel leaders.
In other words, what I am suggesting is that, total or partial autonomy would not be an ideal solution to alleviate poverty amongst the Sulu. If and when, power and wealth are given through rebel leaders, these leaders would be turned into warlords.
The people of Moro and Sulu must be shown, and personally experience, that only long term peace can lead to prosperity. They must see that joining the rebel group would only bring death, suffering and more hardship. The economic and welfare development of the these unfortunate islanders should not, therefore, involve the rebels. Least of all, its war-mongering leaders.
Am I being harsh, my friend? On the contrary, I am a student of history.
What we do in future, should reflect upon what we have learned from the past. If we fail to learn from our past, then we have not learned at all.