The fight for Pulau Batu Putih (PBP), or Pedra Branca as Singapore prefers it, was over even before lawyers could face it off in The Hague.
Malaysians had apparently embarked on a ‘war path’ without the one vital ammunition which could have delivered the knockout punch on their opponents from across the causeway. Chief negotiator and Ambassador-at-large Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Mohamad revealed the futile search for the correspondence from the British to the Johore Temenggong seeking approval to build the Horsburgh Lighthouse.
This fruitless effort was revealed in the Malaysian Parliament (The Star, May 26, 08) when lawyer cum opposition politician Karpal Singh put the government to task for the loss of PBP. He claimed it was ‘foolhardly to have the case before ICJ” without this solid piece of material.
The missing piece of the 19th. century document proved to be the coup de grace in our argument that the rocky islet was indeed historically ours. It was the vital material to support the claim that the crown colony’s presence in the rocky isle was at the courtesy of Johorean court. Other parliamentarians too joined in the fray and some of their favourite punching bags were the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the National Archives (Arkib Negara).
A backbencher not wanting to be outdone during the heated debate, even go so far to attribute the PBP loss to the lackadaisical attitude from the Unity, Cultural, Arts and Heritage Ministry in living up to its reputation as the guardians of Malaysia’s heritage. Imagine the ministry’s costly oversight in securing and preserving historical documents has now manifested into permanently deleting part of our southern border off from the map.
While there are now frantic calls to preserve documents, maps and relics pertaining to our litoral heritage before more islands are lost, they have come too late for PBP.
At hindsight, these developments could have taught us the valuable lesson to consider another perspective on how best we can safeguard our sovereign integrity. Policymakers no longer can justify protecting our shores by going on shopping spree and spending our hard earned ringgit on military hardware.
Similarly, they must adopt fresh approach to meet our defensive needs and look at threats from a whole different angle. When we finally arrive at this juncture, the future solution to prevent encroachment to our territory lies not in the billions we spent on the Sukhoi or Scorpene, but the fight is waged closer to our hearts and minds, by protecting our heritage.
Therefore, it is not too far stretched to argue that our vibrant and rich history could well be the preferred armament to avoid more geopolitical skirmish. Perhaps it is not too late yet for Malaysians to come with terms that our fight to settle future disputes and defend our territorial rights begins with the first step to Arkib Negara and the quality and the volume of its heritage collections.
In this new playing field, conservationists, museum curators and historians would join ranks with army generals and panglima in assuming the role of safeguarding our national sovereignty.
Heritage will be the weapon of choice to keep Malaysian borders intact.