Save 20% off! Join our newsletter and get 20% off right away!

Reviving Sabah Claim – Part 1

muslim_smile (2) (320x240)
Mindanao ethnic dance

The recent events that took place in Sabah, part of Borneo Island where in Malaysia’s security forces surrounded dozens of Filipino gunmen in a remote area reportedly demanding the right to stay.

According  to Malaysia Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein about 80 to 100 gunmen suspected of belonging to the “royal army” of the Sultanate of Sulu had been cornered by security forces near the small coastal town of Lahad Datu in Sabah. (The intruders were subsequently repelled – ed)

The area was once controlled by the former Islamic Sultanate of Sulu and has a history of incursions by armed Filipino Muslim groups, and was reported that the armed Filipinos declared themselves followers of “a descendant of the Sultan of Sulu.”  The group demanded to be recognized as the “Royal Sulu Sultanate Army” and insisted that as subjects of the sultanate, they should be allowed to remain in Sabah.  However, Malaysian authorities demanded that the armed men need to leave the country.

A negotiation was underway as we write this piece.

It appears that the recent incident is again reviving the dormant Sabah issue which caused a rift between Malaysia and the Philippines many years ago.

During the Arroyo administration, the government, without announcement, revived the so-called ‘Sabah Desk’in the Deparmtent of Foreign Affairs. The Foreign Affairs Department spokesman at that time said that the decision was related to the ongoing negotiation to open a Philippine consulate in Sabah to attend to the status of many Filipino migrants in that part of East Malaysia.

This decision, however, did not escape the eagle eye of the Sultan of Sulu, who claims proprietary rights to Sabah. He cautioned the government to be transparent in dealing with Malaysia on whatever agreement it is negotiating that might affect the Philippine claim to the territory. In a statement issued by his Interim Supreme Royal Ruling council, Jamalul Kiram III, it was revealed that he will not recognize any agreement reached by the two countries concerning the Sabah issue. He added that he issued royal decrees asking his constituents to follow his decrees.

The Sultan felt that the Sultanate had again left in the dark as to what political leverage the government will use in the negotiating with Malaysia concerning the Sabah claim, which was initiated by then President Diosdado Macapagal in 1962. Kiram also revealed that technically the Philippine government no longer has the authority to pursue the claim since he revoked in 1989 the special power of attorney granted by his predecessor to the Macapagal administration in 1962.

The Philippine claim to Sabah, according to Michael Leifer, an academic who made an exhaustive study of the Sabah claim, has attracted ‘more notoriety than serious attention outside of these islands [Philippines].’ He reasoned out that it was because of the ‘air of political improvisation and private greed which has surrounded the presentation of the claim’ that, he believed, tended to detract from the justification of the claim.

Records show that the Sultan of Sulu was the sovereign of Sabah, part of North Borneo as early as the 17th century. He retained his sovereignty over the territory until the late 1950s, when he signed a special power of attorney granting the Philippine government the rights to pursue the case.

Looking back further, before this, records tell us that the Sultan of Sulu come into possession of most of North Borneo in 1704 when the Sultan of Brunei disposed of the territory east of the Kimanis river as reward for the military assistance rendered by Sulu to the Brunei Sultanate in a war against its enemy.