One wonders how much more of the mess that is the Sultan of Sulu’s claim to the Malaysian state of Sabah the administration of President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III can sweep under its lumpy rug.
The simple fact of the continued payment of USD1,500 a year by the Malaysian government to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III remains de facto evidence of Malaysia’s recognition of the original scope of the realm of the Sulu sultanate. This is a legacy of the open-ended question that persists as to the legality of the transfer of the territory today known as the Malaysian state of Sabah to the Malay Federation in 1963. The question remains open as a result of the manner with which the British North Borneo Company (which had been leasing the territory from the Sulu sultanate) allegedly transferred “ownership” of what was to become Sabah to the Malays in that year.
The now-famous “lost letter” reportedly sent in 2010 by Sulu sultanate Crown Prince Agbimuddin Kiram to President BS Aquino III would have summarised the situation at hand to the His Excellency had he paid attention…
Specifically, Agbimuddin in the letter asked for guidance from the new President on what course of action the ISRRC should take, especially involving the Sabah claim.
â€œWith highest esteem, may we inform His Excellency that during the consultation process, we asked our supporters what action, under the guiding light of your administration, the ISRRC of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo would take or adopt anent the Sabah issue, which became the national contract between the government of the Philippines and the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo pursuant to the filing of such claim in the United Nations against Great Britain and Malaysia in 1962,â€ Agbimuddin said.
Anticipating Aquinoâ€™s participation in international forums such as the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leadersâ€™ summit, Agbimuddin stated his clanâ€™s position on the Sabah claim to guide the President in discussions on the issue in meetings with representatives of Malaysia.
So now, the MalacaÃ±ang of BS Aquino joins a succession of Manila governments that have failed to progress the Philippines’ case since the administration of Diosdado Macapagal renewed the claim on Sabah in 1965. Yet the strength of this claim is straightforward and readily-evident. Indeed, just this week, former Malaysian Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh reportedly proposed a one-time lump-sum of RM200 million (USD64 million) to settle the issue.
“I appeal to the Federal Government to consider settling once and for all the issue of the claim and the yearly payment to the Sultan of Sulu,” he said in a statement, here, Wednesday.
He said the suggested amount of RM200 million was merely equivalent to the monthly expenses for the armed forces to control Sabah’s coastline.
Towards this end, Harris said he had written to Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein that RM50 million is to be allocated from the RM200 million direct to the Sulu Sultan’s descendants while the balance for the development of a Felda-style settlement scheme in Mindanao.
“This will benefit both the heirs of the sultan as well as the people of Mindanao,” he said, adding that the Malaysian Government should deal directly with the Sultan of Sulu rather than talking to leaders of the intruders at Lahad Datu.
He said any confrontation of arms would definitely cause casualties on both sides. “It can be expected that Malaysian security forces will come out with flying colours. But the scars will remain forever, just like other countries such as Northern Ireland, Spain and many others.
In short, the Philippine Government is in a strong position to negotiate with the Malaysians on behalf of the heirs to the Sulu sultanate on the basis of the following key points:
(1) Historical record: The lease payments to the Sultan of Sulu have persisteted virtually uninterrupted since the middle of the 18th Century under the administration of the British East India Company (the predecessor of the British North Borneo Company) up to the present under the government of Malaysia.
(2) Flawed execution of the “transfer” of the territory: The British North Borneo Company by virtue of its payment of rent to the sultanate held the role of lessee. As such it enjoyed none of the sort of authority to dispose of leased assets normally enjoyed by a lessor (the owner of an asset that is the subject of a lease agreement).
(3) Residency and citizenship of the Sultan of Sulu: The Sultan of Sulu is a resident and citizen of the Republic of the Philippines and has entrusted representation of his and his peoples’ interests to the Philippine government.
Item 3 is the most interesting point in the context of how the Philippine Government is currently botching its handling of this international imbroglio. Indeed, the Philippine Government under BS Aquino is virtually defending Malaysia from its own citizens…
Hajirul said armed civilians in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are ready to enter Sabah to support the sultanâ€™s followers.
Intelligence sources confirmed groups of armed Tausugs were massing up in areas just across Sabah.
â€œThe only thing that prevents these armed civilian groups from swarming to Sabah is the naval blockade being enforced by the Philippine Navy,â€ a source from Sulu said.
At least six gunboats are patrolling the waters near Sabah to prevent undocumented Filipinos from going to the territory and joining forces with the sultanâ€™s followers in Lahad Datu.
Add this moronic situation to the Philippine Military’s track record of missing the whole point of its very existence which, in all ironies, began in 1986 when it came so dangerously close to mowing down a million-strong civilian Filipinos peacefully massed in EDSA to protest an allegedly criminal dictatorship. Back then the military leadership had to make a crucial decision as to who it really wanted to defend. Perhaps it should make a similar decision on the back of those same principles today.
More to the specific point, this seems to be an unprecedented military position taken by a national naval force — protecting the coastline of a foreign country against the very citizens it is sworn to protect.
For a people renowned for testosterone-fuelled pomposity, Filipinos seem to approach its military and diplomatic challenges with a flaccid character, choosing instead to regard as “heroes” its army of overseas foreign workers (OFWs), many of whom are employed by the Malaysian people. It is hardly surprising then that such a people are led by a man known as The Yellow One.
Who really is the Boss?
History will, as always, be the judge.
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