MANILA, MARCH 11, 2013 (INQUIRER) By Jerome Aning - Former President Fidel V. Ramos (photo) on Wednesday stressed he never abandoned the Philippine claim to Sabah and urged President Aquino and Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to meet face to face to discuss how to end the standoff in the Malaysian state.

“The two principals should meet one on one, just the two of them, face to face,” Ramos said in a press conference at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, shortly before he left for a business trip to Taiwan.

Ramos said the National Security Council and a full Cabinet meeting should have been convened as soon as the crisis ensued, although he said he respected Aquino’s actions.

In the meeting, Ramos said, Aquino should secure a pledge from Kiram to be allowed to represent the sultanate in talks with Malaysia regarding the Sabah claim and in turn, Aquino should vow to do a “good job” representing the sultanate.

Ramos said that his administration did not give up the Sabah claim and scored what he described as “instant experts” who hinted as such.

“We did not abandon the claim. But you must put it in the back burner because you must prioritize the issues you want to attend to. But that does not mean you put the loss of lives in the back burner,” he explained.

If he were Aquino, Ramos said, he also would tell Kiram to stop sending forces to Sabah to save them from death at the hands of Malaysian troops.

World heard message

To Kiram and other claimants, Ramos said his message is: “[Sending forces there] is creating violence. The world is now different from what it was in the 19th century when the transfers of sovereignty, ownership and rights took place. Do you want the young people to experience war?”

“I think the message of the sultanate has been received by the world. What happened (violence) is enough,” he said.

He also said he disagreed with pronouncements that the sultan’s troops who went to Sabah should be considered terrorists and charged criminally, adding that these should be talked about first in the dialogue.

Afterward, Aquino should meet the leader of Malaysia to present what was agreed upon in the meeting, Ramos said.

Win-win strategy

The former President said the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippine East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) should be revived by the countries concerned because it was a key to improving the conditions of the people of southern Philippines, Borneo island and adjacent areas.

“The BIMP-EAGA is the win-win strategy if we are looking from the perspective of a better, more prosperous, more peaceful, more harmonious and more sustainable future for all peoples,” Ramos said.

He said the potentials of the BIMP-EAGA were so great that even foreign local governments such as Australia’s Northern Territory and Western Australia state had joined the grouping as associates.

Ramos added that during his administration, he tried to set up a corporation that would develop BIMP-EAGA. The company would be jointly operated by Malaysia, the sultanate’s list of the heirs and private sector partners.

The proceeds of the company could substitute for the annual 5,300 Malaysian ringgits as rent to the heirs of the sultanate.

Recognize legal sultan

During his term, however, the setting up of the corporation was aborted because of the delay in finalizing the heirs of the sultanate. He said he has yet to hear from the Aquino administration if it had officially recognized Kiram as the legal sultan.


Noynoy tells FVR off By Jojo Robles | Posted on Mar. 08, 2013 at 12:01am |

[(L-R) Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, former President Fidel Ramos and President-elect Noynoy Aquino Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales administer the oath-taking of President-elect Noynoy Aquino during his inauguration as the fifteenth President of the Philippines, at Quirino Grandstand on June 30, 2010 in Manila, Philippines. Aquino won the 2010 Presidential Election and was proclaimed winner and President-elect on June 9, succeeding outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. (June 29, 2010 - Source: Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images AsiaPac) ]

Former President Fidel Ramos drew a response from President Noynoy Aquino after the former suggested that the incumbent and Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III sit down and discuss the Sultanate’s Sabah claim: Send me a memo, Aquino told Ramos.

I don’t know if Ramos can find time between his many speaking engagements, his column-writing and his golf games to write a memo to Aquino. All I know is, Ramos may not want to send a letter to Aquino, given what happened to the letters that Kiram has been writing to the President since 2010.

Ramos may not take kindly to his memo getting “lost in the bureaucratic maze,” the fate that befell the Sultan’s notes urging Aquino to include the Sultanate in negotiations between the government of the Philippines and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front— and which directly led to the conflict in Sabah. I’d also like to believe that if Aquino ignores any memo that Ramos sends, the former President will not go the Sultan’s route and send an invading armed force to make his point.

But seriously, why should Ramos say more than he already did, seeing as Aquino seems to have gotten the former President’s message more or less clearly without any letter being sent? If I were Ramos, I’d resent the suggestion that he has to write Aquino like he was some supplicant or subordinate—he is, after all, once also President of this country and someone whose advice should be automatically considered by his successor-in-office.

More than likely, Aquino’s “send me a memo” response to Ramos is a not-so-polite brush-off of the former President, a rebuke that signifies that the current Chief Executive doesn’t really need any advice on how to handle the Sabah situation, not even from a distinguished predecessor. Which is sad, really, because Aquino —whether he admits it or not—needs the counsel of someone like Ramos, under whose term our relations with our neighbors were probably never better.

Ramos can offer sage advice and counsel to Aquino because of his long experience and direct knowledge of regional and national politics and his friendly ties with longtime Malaysian Premier Mahathir Mohamad. For Aquino to kiss off Ramos’ advice smacks of arrogance—especially from a President who has surrounded himself with diplomatic nobodies and political third-stringers.

But what can anyone expect from a President who has not even consulted Congress through the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council or even his full Cabinet about a crisis that has such grave national security and diplomatic implications? Aquino says he is merely “in touch” with the security cluster of his Cabinet, which he claims gives him enough advice on what to do in Sabah.

To this day, nobody really knows who is advising Aquino on Sabah. (The coffee-shop joke has Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas involved because the matter involves the contentious “padyak” or lease of Sabah to British and to Malaysia; who would know better what to do, the wags note, than “Boy Padyak” himself?)

* * *

Ramos must have been chafing at the bit to get involved in resolving the crisis, having been one of the initiators in 1994 of the East Asean Growth Area concept, also known as BIMP-EAGA. Ramos was a prime mover of that subregional grouping of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines and which covers the entire area of Brunei Darussalam, provinces of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, West Papua and Papua in Indonesia; the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the federal territory of Labuan in Malaysia; and the island of Mindanao and the province of Palawan in the Philippines.

Why Aquino would give someone with Ramos’ credentials and standing the bum’s rush is beyond me. At the very least, Aquino could ask Ramos to initiate a sit-down between the Sultan, current Malaysian Premier Najib Abdul Razak, Mahathir and the two Philippine Presidents, if the incumbent really wanted to resolve the Sabah claim and restore peace in the territory.

But Aquino has never been known to seek or value advice from people who he has not known since grade school, who have not spent time with him in the firing range, who is not a top banana of the Liberal Party or who did not take him seriously when he was still a nobody with a famous pedigree. So Ramos, even if he is the ideal broker with the Sultan and with Malaysia—and who certainly will never be a part of a “conspiracy” to bring down Aquino using the Sabah issue—must just write a memo to Aquino.

Ramos would have welcomed such a role, had it been offered to him by Aquino. By speaking about Sabah when so many politicians allied with Aquino kept very low profiles, fearful of a possible backlash on them, Ramos basically made himself unconditionally available to the President.

Now, I’m not so sure anymore if Ramos would accept a role in resolving the Sabah dispute. FVR is of the old school, and he must certainly know when he has been told that his involvement is not welcome.

Aquino may feel that, as usual, he can go it alone with just the Boy Padyaks who make up his inner circle advising him. But he is wrong to do so —not to mention supremely arrogant and full of hubris.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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