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MANILA, Philippines – The contents of the letter that Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III sent to President Benigno Aquino III just weeks after his inauguration in 2010, and which Aquino admitted got "lost in the bureaucratic maze," was revealed by the sultanate on Wednesday, as the Philippine government drew fire both for its official neglect and for sounding more like Malaysia’s ally in the Sabah crisis.
In the letter, the sultan was offering to provide inputs on the long-drawn search for comprehensive peace in Muslim Mindanao, noting the sultanate’s relations with the two rebel groups MNLF and MILF. He was also seeking an audience with the President to talk about their claim to Sabah or North Borneo, which the sultanate leased to British merchants in 1878, but which the British government gave to Malaysia when its federation was created. The sultanate ceded its claim to the Philippine government so that it can stand a better chance of being pursued.
The claim, however, took the backseat through five presidencies after it was officially filed in 1963 by then President Diosdado Macapagal.
On Wednesday, hours after Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario assumed responsibility for the loss of the letter---even though he was not yet the DFA secretary when it was lost---Kiram’s wife Fatima Celia showed reporters their receiving copy of the lost letter dated July 19, 2010, long before the new administration began peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Their copy had the receiving bar code from the records section, dated October 15, 2012. Asked by reporters for a reaction on DFA's apology for the lost letter, Fatima Celia replied, “the damage has been done. There are already dead people. They could have prevented the bloodshed if only they had given importance to the letter.” She was referring to the over 20 people who have died on both the Malaysian security forces’ side and the sultanate’s followers, since Malaysian commandos assaulted the Filipinos’ camp on Saturday morning, and the military launched air attacks on Tuesday.
Fatima Celia sighed, “Jolo was a paradise before. Asan na ang matuwid na daan?”