Catch-22

At the time the contract was signed, ‘the Philippines existed in geography, but not as a political unit.’

By TEB

August 2, 2022

The Philippine government does not stand to gain anything from the landmark $14.9 billion ruling of the French arbitral court, since the contract being disputed is between the Sulu Sultanate and the United Kingdom empire-backed British North Borneo Co. (BNBC), according to the opinion of Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile.

Enrile told Daily Tribune that the Sabah issue has yet to be discussed with President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., but his personal view was that the award emanated from a “private” transaction among Sulu Sultan Jamal Al Alam, British government representative Baron de Overbeck and BNBC’s Alfred Dent in 1878.

Enrile again proved his sharp legal perspective on the Sabah issue, worthy of an adviser to President Marcos.

The deed leased Sabah to the trading house for 5,300 Mexican dollars. Malaysia, when it gained independence, continued paying the lease as provided in the deal, but the amount was reduced to 5,300 Malaysian ringgit.

A Mexican dollar is what is now known among collectors as a piece of eight, which is a silver coin worth around $11 each. At its current value, 5,300 Mexican dollars annually would be equivalent to P3 million compared to P63,600, which is the estimated value of the compensation in Malaysian currency.

No matter the amount, Enrile said it is between the Sultanate and the Malaysian government, which inherited the British Crown obligation.

Despite the assignment to the Philippine government of the right over Sabah, “the contracting parties are the British North Borneo Co. and the Sultan. The Philippines as a political entity did not even exist then.”

The Philippine Republic is not included in the financial transaction, the legal ace said.

What was transferred to the government in the 1962 agreement was the sovereignty over the area, Enrile averred.

The former Senate President was referring to the 1962 deal during the term of President Diosdado Macapagal in which the Sulu heirs assigned the territorial rights to Sabah to the government.

He pointed out that the money owed by the British trading house to the Sultanate is a “private contract or transaction,” which does not include the Philippine government.

At the time the contract was signed, “the Philippines existed in geography, but not as a political unit,” Enrile said.

He added that the contract was signed when the Philippines was still a colony of Spain.

Enrile revealed that even the island of Palawan was being targeted by the British North Borneo Co. during the period of the American occupation.

The legal adviser of the Americans at that time was the law office of his father.

“What is clear is that the parties to the agreement are the British North Borneo Co. and the Sultanate of Sulu,” he explained, regarding the agreement which was arbitrated in the international tribunal.

Enrile’s predecessor, Salvador Panelo, nonetheless, said the government has an obligation to come to the aid of the Sultanate because of the fact that its members are Filipinos.

The final call it seems would have to come from the President.


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