Connect with us


‘An anthology on the Philippine claim to North Borneo’ (5)

Victor Avecilla




In 2008, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued her “Guidelines on Matters Pertaining to Sabah.” The guidelines provide that any official activity related to North Borneo may not be undertaken without prior clearance from the DFA.


On 27 March 2009, Congress enacted REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9522 which further amended REPUBLIC ACT NO. 3046 (earlier amended in 1968 by REPUBLIC ACT NO. 5446) by again re-defining the archipelagic baselines of the national territory of Philippines.

Surprisingly, REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9522 is silent as to whether or not it repealed REPUBLIC ACT NO. 5446 which explicitly includes North Borneo in the delineation and description of the national territory.

In Magallona v. Ermita (G.R. No. 187167, 16 August 2011; 655 SCRA 476), the Supreme Court en banc declared that Section 2 of REPUBLIC ACT NO. 5446 has not been repealed by subsequent legislation, REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9522 in particular. To all intents and purposes, therefore, the Supreme Court held that Manila’s claim to North Borneo has not been abandoned by the Republic of the Philippines.


By the time President Benigno Aquino III was in power, the Philippine claim to North Borneo was hibernating in the freezer, so to speak.

Apparently exasperated with Malacañang’s inaction and indifference since the time of President Corazon Aquino, Jamalul Kiram III, who was in charge of the Sultanate of Sulu because his nephew, the rightful Sultan Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram, was still very young to govern, decided to get back North Borneo by force.

On 11 February 2013, an estimated 200 armed Filipinos, all loyal followers of Jamalul Kiram III, left Simunul Island in Tawi-Tawi and entered the Lahad Datu district of North Borneo. The Royal Army of Sulu, as the group was called in some news stories, was led by the sultan’s brother and it intended to seize North Borneo, which rightfully belongs to the Sultanate of Sulu.

From all indications, the invasion was launched without the prior knowledge and approval of President Aquino III.

The Malaysian government sent troops to North Borneo to repel the commandos. In the end, the invasion fell in disarray due to the numerical superiority of Malaysia’s soldiers, the less powerful firearms of the sultan’s soldiers, and the shameless lack of military support from the Aquino administration. Soldiers of the sultanate captured in North Borneo were thrown in Malaysian prisons.

Citing the attack as an excuse, the government of Malaysia suspended the payment of the annual rent for the lease of North Borneo.

Sadly, Jamalul Kiram III passed away several months after the attack in North Borneo,


Weeks thereafter, President Aquino III appeared on national television to urge the Malaysian government not to harm the interests of the estimated 800,000 Filipinos living in North Borneo at that time.

Instead of calling for a negotiation, Aquino III seemed to acquiesce in the directives of Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Obviously siding with Malaysia, Aquino III and his foreign affairs secretary, Albert del Rosario, were visibly apologetic to Kuala Lumpur.

Secretary Del Rosario is a close friend of the Aquino family. His ties to this Central Luzon political dynasty go back to the time of Aquino III’s mother, President Corazon Aquino.

President Aquino III went to the extent of scolding the sultanate’s followers and ordered those who were not yet arrested by Malaysian police to return to the Philippines. To make matters worse, Aquino III directed Philippine prosecutors to file criminal cases against those who participated in the attack on North Borneo once they are arrested in the Philippines.


For decades since Malaysian independence, there have been reports from Filipinos who have been to North Borneo that the government in Kuala Lumpur chronically maltreats Filipinos living in North Borneo. They are not entitled to the same rights and privileges enjoyed by Malaysians in the area. Many are denied access to basic services such as public schools and public hospitals.

Filipinos living in North Borneo refuse to get Philippine passports for fear that the Malaysian government will expel them as aliens. Precisely because they are Filipinos, Malaysia treats them as outcasts.

By way of Malaysian reprisal, the Filipinos living in North Borneo were subjected to harassment and maltreatment in the wake of the 2013 attack on North Borneo.

As of 2013, as estimated 800,000 Filipinos live in North Borneo. Filipinos comprise a quarter of the population there. Most of them are Tausugs who have retained the traditions of their tribe.

Ambassador Wencelito Andanar, President Rodrigo Duterte’s special envoy to Malaysia, observed that one who goes to North Borneo will feel the Filipino atmosphere there. He added that one will see and meet a lot of Filipinos all over the place.

To be continued