Sabah Claim

Sabah, the "Land Below The Wind" because it lies south of the typhoon belt, is now buffeted by the winds of change propelled by the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.

Impatient over the Philippine government's inaction to officially settle their claim to most of the eastern part of Sabah, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, leading loyal followers of some 400 Sulu residents, some of whom are lightly armed, staked his claim to what he believes is land that belongs to his family.

They are now settled in Lahad Datu, demanding that they should not be expelled from Sabah, an area that the Philippines, on behalf of the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu, had been trying to reclaim from Malaysia.

This conundrum is now bedeviling the Aquino administration, the fly in the ointment of what was supposed to be a peaceful resolution of the Mindanao conflict with the pending signing of the agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In the '50s, the Philippine map includes a portion of north Borneo that is outlined but without any recognizable feature, "Terra Incognita," but part of the territory nonetheless since this area used to be under the Sulu Sultanate in the 1400s.

It is time once more to revisit the Borneo dispute for the edification of the younger generations who might not be aware of what this hoopla is all about.

On January 22, 1878, the Sultanate of Sulu and British commercial syndicate (Alfred Dent and Baron von Overbeck) signed an agreement, stipulating that North Borneo was either ceded or leased (depending on translation used) to the British syndicate in return for payment of 5,000 Malayan dollars per year.

On April 22, 1903, His Majesty, Sultan Jamalul Kiram, signed a document known as "Confirmation of cession of certain islands," under what he either "granted and ceded" or "leased" additional islands in the neighborhood of the mainland of North Borneo from Banggi Island to Sibuku Bay to British North Borneo Company.

The Malaysian Embassy in Manila continues to pay "cession money" to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu, amounting to R73, 940 or RM5300. This cession money is confirmed by the Malaysian Embassy in Manila and the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu.

A British version of the agreement says the grant is ceded, while the Sulu version says it was a lease.

The key word in both the agreements was "padjak," which has been translated by American, Dutch, and Spanish linguists to mean "lease" or "arrendamiento."

The British nevertheless takes the word "padjak" to mean "grant and cede," according to Wikipedia.

"It can be argued however, that "padjak" means "mortgage" or "pawn" or even "wholesale," as per the contemporary meaning of "padjak" in Sulu.

This indicates that the agreement was actually a contract in which the Sultan of Sulu placed the land as mortgage/perpetual lease in return for a loan of 5,300 Malayan dollars per year in perpetuity.

To this day, although many Filipinos are mum on the matter, they blame British duplicity for giving Sabah back to Malaysia, a former colony and not to the Philippines.

During former President Diosdado Macapagal's watch, the territory of North Borneo, and the full sovereignty, title, and dominion over the territory were ceded by the then reigning Sultan of Sulu, HM Sultan Muhammad Esmail E. Kiram I, to the Republic of the Philippines.

The cession effectively gave the Philippine government the full authority to pursue their claim in international courts.

The Philippines broke diplomatic relations with Malaysia after the federation included Sabah in 1963 but probably resumed it unofficially through the Manila Accord.

In 1968, former President Ferdinand Marcos trained a team of saboteurs on Corregidor for infiltration into Sabah but the plan went awry. The soldiers, except one, were shot and the event became known as the Jabidah massacre.

Marcos dropped the claim but the aggrieved Malaysians insisted on an explicit, humiliating public renunciation that no Philippine president could meet their conditions, Wikipedia said.

Diplomatic ties were resumed in 1989 and during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos, the Sabah claim was relegated to the back burner in the interest of pursuing cordial economic and security relations with Kuala Lumpur.

On July 16, 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the Philippine claim over Sabah is retained and may be pursued in the future.

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