Clear Sabah perspective (1)

In the UN General Assembly, then Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez appealed for help in promoting a peaceful resolution to the Sabah issue.

August 3, 2022

It was the late firebrand Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago who gave the most compelling reason for the Philippine leadership to actively pursue the Sabah claim, which would be in consideration of the lives of Filipinos residing in the territory.

Most of these Filipinos live in political limbo. Those who are Sabah residents are not recognized as residents because of the Malaysian fear that the Filipino stock will increase and become an ever-present threat amid the territorial friction.

Children of Filipinos born in Sabah, thus, become stateless as their parents refuse to acquire Philippine passports for them, since it will be an invitation to deportation.

Santiago, in one of her frequent addresses to students who adore her, came up with a detailed and lucid timeline of the historical events.

In 1640, she said the Spaniards entered into a treaty with the sultans of Sulu and Maguindanao, in which the colonizers recognized the independence of the two sultanates, and thus the Sulu sultan became the sovereign ruler of Sabah.

A 10-year civil war erupted between two Brunei sultans, one of whom, Sultan Muaddin, requested for military aid from the Sulu sultan. In 1675, the Brunei civil war ended, and the victor, Sultan Muaddin, ceded Sabah to the Sulu sultan.

In 1759, a Scottish voyager, Alexander Dalrymple, reached the Sulu Sea. In 1877, a private trading house which is backed by the British Crown obtained land grants from the Brunei and Sulu sultans.

In 1878, Sulu Sultan Jamal Al Alam entered into a deed of pajak with an Austrian named Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and an Englishman named Alfred Dent, as representatives of the British North Borneo Co.

The deed was written in Arabic script. In 1946, Prof. Harold Conklin translated the term pajak as “lease” as it provided for an annual rental. The treaty constitutes the main basis of the territorial dispute between the Philippines and Malaysia over Sabah.

The Philippine claims that the term pajak means “a lease,” while Malaysia claims it means “cession.”

Santiago said “lease” means a contract by which a rightful possessor of real property conveys the right to use and occupy the property for consideration, usually rent. “Cession” means the relinquishment or transfer of land from one state to another.

During World War 2, the Japanese occupied Brunei. After the war, in 1946, the British Crown granted to Brunei the status of crown colony. In 1963, Sabah joined Malaysia.

In 1950, Congress adopted a “Concurrent resolution expressing the sense of the Philippines that North Borneo belongs to the heirs of the sultan of Sulu and the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines and authorizing the President to conduct negotiations for the restoration of such ownership and sovereign jurisdiction over said territory.”

Santiago recounted in 1961, President Diosdado Macapagal filed the Philippine claim to Sabah.

The next year, in the United Nations General Assembly, then Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez appealed for help in promoting a peaceful resolution to the Sabah issue.

In 1962, the heirs of the Sulu sultan issued a declaration entitled “Recognition and authority in favor of the Republic of the Philippines,” which ceded and transferred sovereignty over Sabah to the Philippines.

Following that declaration, the Republic of the Philippines accepted the cession of sovereignty made by the Sulu sultan and shortly after, Congress reiterated its 1950 prior resolution.

Malaysia contends that in 1989, the Sulu sultan’s heirs revoked their authorization issued to the Philippine government as their representative.

In 2001, one of the heirs sent a demand letter for an increase in lease payments.

In 2008, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued the “Guidelines on Matters Pertaining to Sabah,” which required any official activity related to Sabah to first obtain clearance from the Department of Foreign Affairs. In 2009, President Arroyo signed the new law on the archipelagic baselines of the Philippines, which Santiago sponsored.

“This law was upheld in 2011 by the Supreme Court, which categorically stated that the Philippines retains its claim to Sabah,” according to Santiago.

“The claim of Malaysia today is ultimately traced to the claim of the BNBC. However, BNBC was created by British royal grant, which does not contain any provision or text granting BNBC authority to acquire or hold territory for and on behalf of the British Crown,” she said.

(To be continued)


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