Do You Choose A Person Who Is A Populist, Or One Who Can Actually Work?

It is interesting how time and time again we, our ASEAN neighbours included, vote in or root for people who are popular rather than people who can actually do the job. The Philippines had Cory Aquino, Eric Estrada; Indonesia had Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid). In Malaysia, we have people rooting for Anwar Ibrahim despite the comical and absurd nature of his “struggle” to become a Prime Minister come what may. What is more absurd and even funnier was the populist campaign designed by Najib Razak’s consultants to paint a popular image of the incumbent.

And that failed badly.

So, what do we Malaysian people actually want? Someone who wins on a big popularity ticket, or someone who can actually work, proven to have truly serviced his/her constituency and not just offer lip service?

Indonesia now has Joko Widodo. See one person’s observations of him before and after the elections and see how the same reflects many politicians here in Malaysia.

ESSCOM’s Failure: Who To Blame?

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If you think it is disgusting that armed men believed to be from the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf could infiltrate our borders of the east coast of Sabah last November, shoot dead a tourist from Taiwan and kidnapped his wife, then again a few days ago taking a tourist from China and a resort worker away, guess what is even more disgusting? That the man above, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, had the cheek to say the following (as quoted by The Star:

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Who are we to blame then, Wan Junaidi?

May I remind the Deputy Minister that ESSCOM was created on 7th March 2013 to ensure the security of the ESSZONE is taken care of in a holistic manner so there would be no recurrence of the Lahad Datu incursion and of other similar incidents. Maybe I can provide the Deputy Minister with a statement by the Prime Minister on Police Day 2013 that was posted on ESSCOM’s website.

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ESSCOM is an agency under the Prime Minister’s Department to undertake the enhancement of security in the ESSZONE defined as 10 districts from Kudat to Tawau spanning 1,733.7 kilometers, to prevent recurrence of any form of intrusion by unwanted foreign elements.  The method that should be employed to affect this is by applying the Defence-in-Depth concept that I wrote about in March of 2013 when ESSCOM was first formed.  The military has worked with the police in a support role on numerous occasions starting with the First and Second Emergencies of 1948-1960 and 1968-1989 periods respectively, in various UN missions such as to Cambodia, Liberia, and Timor Leste. The military also supported the operations conducted by the police in Ops Daulat last year, and since then the military and police have conducted basic recruit training jointly at the Army Recruit Training Centre in Port Dickson to enhance better understanding between the two.  Therefore, the issue of one not being able to accept orders by the other does not arise.  In any case in peacetime, the command of the police prevails and the military plays a supporting role, and this has always been case.  The Immigration however, does not have any experience in operational security as they only act as filters to immigration, and not experienced nor trained in deploying combat assets.  It is no secret that the southern Filipinos have no respect nor fear for our Immigration Department. They only fear our police and the military.

I don’t subscribe to Wan Junaidi’s remark that the resorts should close down. They have been in existence even before the formation of ESSCOM. They are still located within our littoral zones. Should they not be protected? Should there not be security forces stationed at these resorts as there is on Mataking, Mabul, Sipadan, SiAmil and other islands?  If the resort owners do not cooperate, what is the problem? Who makes the policies? Can’t action be taken against resort owners who do not respect policies? Stop giving stupid excuses, Wan Junaidi, and start behaving like a Deputy Minister.  If ESSCOM cannot even get the buy-in because it does not have the will to enforce and execute policies, it should be disbanded and leave it to the police and military to run an enhanced version of Ops PASIR. The Immigration Department should just go back to stamping passports and weed out illegal immigrants.

So, who is to be blamed, Wan Junaidi?  Who is to be blamed for appointing a non-combatant to take charge of a combat situation? Who is to be blamed if as a result of the appointment two armed incursions have taken place resulting in the kidnapping of three people and the death of one?  I will blame Wan Junaidi for making stupid statements, one after another, and blame the government for making him a Deputy Minister.

ESSCOM ERROR

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When the government announced the formation of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), I said to myself, “About bloody time!”. I imagined security sectors formed from Kudat to Sandakan to Lahad Datu to Semporna and Tawau, mirroring what we used to have along the Malaysian-Thai border during the Communist insurgency such as Kota Alfa, Kota Bravo, Kota Charlie and Kota Delta spanning Kuala Perlis to Tumpat. The initial aim was to combat the communist guerrillas and stopping their infiltration from Southern Thailand. After the treaty in December 1989, we had elements of the Unit Pencegahan Penyeludupan (UPP) or the Anti-Smuggling Unit operating in these areas in a supporting role, to curb the smuggling of contrabands and also human trafficking.

Instead, I find it rather amusing when the Ketua Setiausaha Negara announced that Datuk Mohammad Mentek has been appointed as the Director of ESSCOM effective April 1st. What is wrong with this appointment? Mohammad Mentek is the Director of Immigration for the state of Sabah, the agency that, in my opinion, has failed badly in curbing the in-flow of illegal Filipino and Indonesian immigrants into that state.

The New Straits Times ran a story on Mohammad Mentek’s appointment and a statement by the KSN that was complemented by Mohammad’s curriculum vitae; citing even that Mohammad would be very experienced in the field of security and public order.

This April 1st appointment has to be an April’s Fool joke with an extremely bad taste. Surely the KSN should know the functions of the Immigration Department like the back of his hand. If I may provide a memory-jogger for all, the. immigration Department’s functions are:

  • 1. Issuing of passports and travel documents to Malaysian Citizens and Permanent Residents.

    2. Issuing of visas, passes and permits to Foreign Nationals entering Malaysia.

    3. Administering and managing the movement of people at authorised entry and exit points.

    4. Enforcing the Immigration Act 1959/63, Immigration Regulations 1963 and Passport Act 1966.

  • If you think I made the above up, read it here. How much of an expert do you think the Sabah Director of Immigration would be in the field of counter-insurgency warfare, joint-command operations and public order? Other than the pen being mightier than the sword, I doubt if the person’s handled anything more than the butter knife, let alone deploy battalions of soldiers and policemen in combat situations.

    This is another example of the government missing out on a good opportunity to make things better. Obviously, the main concern when we talk about Sabah right now is its defence from foreign elements. With the heavy presence of our security forces there, we can only see illegal immigrants returning to their homeland, and not the other way round. Therefore, the government should have had a clear aim (again, quoting from the Principles of WAR) in ensuring its strategies in making Sabah more secure conform to this aim. A concept called Defence-in-Depth should have been adopted instead where the Army and Police’s General Operations Force occupy the peripheral islands off Sabah, as being done in Ops PASIR, supported by the Navy, Marine Police and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. These are the front-liners that will be meeting armed militants head-on. Onshore, defence and security should be effected by the Army and Police. The Immigration Department will just stick to its supporting role, weeding out illegal immigrants.

    Therefore, in my opinion, the ESSCOM should be jointly-directed by the Deputy Commander of the Army’s 1st Division, one of the deputies of the Commissioner of Police, Sabah, and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency’s Head of Regional Enforcement for Sabah and Labuan. The reason is because they are in-charge of the combat and combat-capable units operating in this region, not the Immigration.

    In conclusion, the choice of the Director of Immigration for Sabah as the Director for ESSCOM is a grave mistake. I respect the person for who he is, but if the government wants to be seen serious in protecting the Malaysians in the state of Sabah, leave the job to the professionals. Not someone who holds a Master of Science (Statistics) degree and a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics) degree from the University of Minnesota, United States.

    The Chinese Navy “Visits” Beting Serupai

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    Mention the name Beting Serupai you might get frowned upon by many. Mention the name James Shoal, and it may raise a few eyebrows. To most Malaysian, they would not be able to pinpoint where James Shoal is, save for some avid fishing enthusiasts, but this 22-meter deep shoal 80 kilometres off Bintulu, Sarawak, has been “visited” by elements of the People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N) or simply referred to as the Chinese Navy, yesterday.

    In its report on the 26th March 2013, the Associated Press wrote:

    The official People’s Daily online said Wednesday that one destroyer, two frigates and an amphibious landing ship took part in the drills around Chinese-controlled outcroppings. They involved hovercraft, ship-born helicopters, amphibious tanks, and land-based fighters and bombers, and were followed by a ceremonial visit Tuesday to James Shoal farther south.

    The Beting Serupai has always been part of China’s claim, lumped together in the Spratlys, as its southernmost territory. Prior to this “visit” the PLA-N visited the shoal in 1993 and 1994. In April of 2010, its vessel, the Marine Surveillance Ship-83 placed a sovereignty stele into the water area of the shoal.

    When Malaysia enhanced its relationship with China in May 2011, it was looked at as a step further towards harnessing a greater economic relationship. The Malaysian Opposition was quick to excoriate the act as political pandering. But in retrospect, it was strategically a good move as it relives the act by the Sultanate of Melaka with the Chinese. China is not a country one could just ignore. As in the 15th century, an alliance with China not only provides economic benefits, but also from a military standpoint.

    It is no secret that after China’s warnings to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in 2012, the United States was actively looking for bases in this region. Among the countries where bases are sought include the Philippines and Vietnam. However, no other modern naval base offers the best proximity than Malaysia’s own Teluk Sepanggar just north of Kota Kinabalu. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the carrier battle group of the USS John C Stennis decided to make a port call there in early October 2012. Before that, in the month of April 2012, the RMN base was visited by the US Navy Secretary, who brought with him the submarine-tender, the USS Emory S Land, and the Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine, the USS Louisville.

    The only factor that is stopping the US Navy from getting naval base facilities in Sabah is probably not having a Malaysian government that would kowtow to them. Therefore, the outcome of the next general elections would be important to them. Little wonder that Sabah has been the aim of a certain party. However, this writer hopes that this dangerous effort would not come to fruition.

    That the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines has asked Filipinos to stop referring to Sabah as Sabah, Malaysia three days ago, citing Memorandum Circular No. 162 issued by Malacanang back in 2008. The DFA has also begun referring to Filipinos fleeing Sabah as “displaced persons” instead of “evacuees” or “returnees.” This is the Philippines government doing a 180 on its previous position re the Sabah claim. The fact that the US Navy and Marines have begun deploying its assets in the Philippines comes as no surprise. On Tuesday the USN and US Marine Corps offloaded more than 270 tactical and amphibious assault vehicles in Subic Bay, Zambales.

    American troops from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III Marine Expeditionary Force, offloaded a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle from the container and roll-on, roll-off ship USNS 1st Lt. Jack Lummus on March 21. Some 8,000 troops from both the US and the Philippines will commence its Balikatan exercise on 5th April. And the US has yet to offer an explanation on why its minesweeper, the USS Guardian, could run aground on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea near Palawan, two weeks before the incursion by the Sulu militants. And suddenly, Jamalul Kiram III who hardly has enough money to cover the bills for his twice-weekly kidney dialysis, could find the financial resources to send hundreds of armed militants across the Sulu Sea to Lahad Datu.

    Perhaps, the Chinese naval exercise in the South China Sea and its “visit” to the southernmost part it claims comes as a warning to any party that plans to upset the military balance in the region. China, I would expect, would want to protect its interests; and the 180 by the Philippines in the Sabah issue could be seen as an attempt to de-stabilise the region. Having Sabah not only allows a nation to dip its fingers into Sabah’s oilfields but also increases its EEZ reach into the Spratlys.

    Whatever the intentions may be by all the related parties, the Malaysian government should seriously look into increasing its naval and aerial assets. A country that is weak militarily will only see its soil trampled by foreign forces. The government should also make sure Sabah is not lost to another nation, and act against the Quislings who have caused the emergency in Lahad Datu.

    Take Sabah Away, Mr Sulu

    When the late Gene Roddenderry wanted an Asian character to be part of the crew of the Federation Starship USS Enterprise, he wanted a surname that does not represent any particular nation. George Takei, an actor in the world-renowned TV show recalled how Roddenderry opened up a map, looked at Asia and saw the Sulu Sea and exclaimed:

    “Ah! The waters of that sea touch all shores!”

    That was how the character Hikaru Sulu got his name.

    And how true it is that the Sulu Sea has now touched on the raw and sensitive parts of the shores of both Malaysia and the Philippines.

    I wrote some days back on the current stand-off in Lahad Datu and it is today Day 11th since a group of armed men claiming to represent the Sultan of Sulu landed in Lahad Datu, Sabah in Malaysia, asking for the return of Sabah to the Sultanate of Sulu.  When the Philippines government worked a peace deal with the Muslims in the country’s deep south via the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, the Muslims and their Filipino brethren embraced it as finally a way forward after decades of impasse.  The framework allows for the creation of a single and autonomous entity called Bangsamoro replacing the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

    The framework agreement was signed at the Malacanang Palace on 15th October 2012 in the presence of President Beningno Aquino III of the Philippines; Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia; and Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Countries.

    Absent was Nur Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front. Nur Misuari had called the BFA irrelevant claiming it was cloned by President Aquino and Najib Razak.  The MILF is a breakaway group that was part of the MNLF back in the 1970s.  Disagreement in the way Nur Misuari handled issues led to the group breaking away.

    Also absent was the Sultan of Sulu.  The alienation of the Sultan probably led to the Lahad Datu stand-off.  The Sultan admitted to have been prompted by the alienation to send some 400 men across the sea to Sabah, as the BFA had seen not only improvements in the lives of the Bangsamoro that he played no role in, but also in the intimacy between the Philippines and Malaysia as neighbours.  And as mentioned in my previous posting on this issue, Nur Misuari’s MNLF supports the Sultan.  And this recent posture is to display its relevance again to the Moro people.

    But why was the Sultan alienated in the peace process?  Simple – there are now ten people who claim the throne.  The Philippines government cannot be dealing with ten different Sultans with ten different basic ideas on how to bring peace and development to the Bangsamoro.  Nur Misuari himself did not attend the signing as he fears that there is an ongoing warrant issued for his arrest for waging war against the Philippines government.

    As the militants are bogged down into their second week in Lahad Datu surrounded by the Malaysian security forces, Nur Misuari was quick to threaten Malaysia saying “if one drop of blood is spilled then we will be forced to come to their aid.”  Nur Misuari also said the following:

    This should be handled by cooler heads…that it would also be good to await the Malaysian general election to see who will be the new Prime Minister…

    And who has Nur Misuari implied by that?  None other than his old friend, Anwar Ibrahim.  It was reported by Reuters and confirmed by Philippine military sources that Anwar had traveled and met Nur Misuari to discuss land claims in Sabah, a few months before the Lahad Datu incident happened.  Anwar has vehemently denied this, but the photo below shows otherwise:

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    Now, Anwar Ibrahim seems a dubious character himself. In a recent open letter, his former legal counsel member, Yuktes Vijay, asked about the former’s links to Islamic fundamentalists as well as known terrorists. Therefore, it is not impossible for him to have met Nur Misuari to discuss the matter, and then deny it like he denied ever being conferred the title of Huguan Siou although people from his own political party had announced that on Facebook, complemented by photos of him.

    The Philippines government has sent six naval vessels to stop people from the Moro region from entering Malaysian waters as this stand-off continues.  And although the Malaysian government has an upperhand and the firepower to end this stand-off, it is probably of best interest to the Bangsamoro, the government of the Philippines as well as Malaysia, to not allow anything to jeopardise the BFA that is still in its infancy.  Perhaps, the MILF and supporters of the BFA in the Moro region should lend their support to both governments to try end this madness.

    In the meantime, while treading gently on this issue, both governments should get to the root of this and probe Anwar Ibrahim’s role in facilitating or prompting this incident.  For it would not have happened had it not been for someone from the Malaysian side advocating and encouraging it to happen.  It is something close to Sabah, and we know Sabah is being wooed by Anwar’s party.  Get the support of the Kadazan-Dusun-Murut community by being recognised as their Paramount Leader (Huguan Siou), you will get support from the Christians in the west side of Sabah.  Get a deal with the Tausugs in Sulu, you will get support from the Muslims especially in the eastern part of Sabah.

    But at what cost?  That remains unanswered.  But maybe Gene Roddenderry would frown had he known the Sulu Sea is one of the volatile areas of the region.