Cagayan de Oro City — A misplaced signal from former President Benigno Aquino III resulted in the Malaysian government to stop paying the yearly rental of the disputed territory of Sabah since 2013 and, more importantly, the Sultanate of Sulu lost the Malaysian government’s recognition of its claim over the territory.
A top official of the Sultanate said yesterday Aquino’s “abandonment of the Sultanate of Sulu” in its pursuit of the claim led to the bloody siege of Lahad Datu.
Abraham Ijirani, Sultanate secretary general, told the Daily Tribune the yearly “lease” worth some 5,000 Malaysian ringgit or a little over P60,000 a year was paid since 1878, but the denomination for this had frequently changed over the years.
The lease payments were halted after the resolution of the siege of the Sultanate’s followers.
The British North Borneo Company and the Sultanate signed a contract allowing the British company to occupy Sabah in 1878.
Spark of standoff
Ijirani said when government abandoned its claim to the disputed territory, the Sultanate was left on its own.
“The Aquinos were anti-Sabah claim, so the Sultanate was left on its own resulting in the Lahad Datu standoff,” he said.
The standoff happened after the Sultanate sent armed followers to enforce the lease agreement.
He said the British colonial government has succeeded the company in maintaining Sabah until the forming of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.
Ijirani said the Malaysian government continued with the payment until 2012.
In 2013, 200 armed men laid siege on Lahad Datu, a district in Sabah, which triggered a gun battle between Malaysian security forces and Tausug warriors. Some 100 were killed in the firefight.
“After the Lahad Datu incident, the Malaysian government stopped paying the yearly rental,” he said.
Ijirani, however, expressed hope that President Rodrigo Duterte will revive the government claim to Sabah as a restitution to the Aquino policy.
After he assumed the presidency, Mr. Duterte announced at one press briefing that he would pursue the Philippines’ claim to Sabah.
“I’ll stick to our claim, what has been the policy of the government, especially those for the interest of the country. We have to stake our claim,” the President said.
Ijirani said the Sultanate has already elevated the Sabah claim to the United Nations in 2004, but the UN did not act on the case because it has to be endorsed by at least one member-country.
He said the Sultanate will pursue its proprietary claim to Sabah peacefully to avoid the repeat of the bloody Lahad Datu standoff.
“We are appealing to President Duterte to initiate the revival of the government’s claim to Sabah which he promised when he assumed the Presidency “ Ijirani said.