Between Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III, who do you think has more balls? At the risk of being labeled biased, Iâ€™d say Sultan Kiram has my vote. Donâ€™t get me wrong, not that I condone what he and his followers did – trooped to Sabah, refused to leave the island state, and demanded that Malaysia hand it back to them – but sometimes, I believe a manâ€™s gotta do what a manâ€™s gotta do.
I would hate to be in either President BS Aquino’s or Sultan Kiramâ€™s shoes right now. The fate of peopleâ€™s lives — even Philippine sovereignty itself — is in their hands. Their decision in the next few days or weeks, whether to retreat or surrender, is bound to make international headlines and will define their legacy during their rule.
I was wrong about how most Filipinos would feel about Sabah. I thought they would get annoyed at Sultan Kiram for the audacity of his claim that Sabah belongs to his family. After all, in peacetime and with all the problems Filipinos have dealing with slow Internet connection, choosing between ordering a latte or a cappuccino among other mundane things, Filipinos need this problem like a hole in the head. However, the unofficial tally of public sentiment evident in public forums seems to lean towards saying that President BS Aquino is either a traitor or a coward on his stand on the issue.
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Some say that President BS Aquino has sold out to the Malaysians. They are very angry with him for not sticking it out with Sultan Kiram and even threatening him in public with charges of violation of Article II Section 2 and Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code of the constitution. To be exact, Sultan Kiram could be charged with provoking or giving occasion of war and exposing Filipino citizens to reprisals on their persons or property.
You can accuse Sultan Kiram of being brazen and disorganized but you cannot accuse him of being a coward. With less than 200 brave followers willing to risk their lives for their cause, he is unrepentant and unrelenting in their crusade despite the threats coming from the President himself. Well, Sultan Kiram and his followers have little to lose but a lot to gain if they succeed at claiming Sabah. For this, he deserves two thumbs-up from the growing number of Filipinos who are now supporting him.
The fact of the matter is, ignorance of history is what is causing division among Filipinos. Ignorance of history it seems is what is causing President BS Aquino to make hasty announcements that could have irreversible repercussions. He hasnâ€™t even made a statement yet about the fact that Malaysia is actually paying lease to the heirs of Sultan Jamalul Alam, which should be enough evidence that Sabah belongs to the Philippines, but he is already telling Sultan Kiram to give up what he thinks is a “hopeless cause”.
Speaking of hopeless, there are people who also think that President BS Aquino is one hopeless case for coming across as a mumbling fool. At one point he even alleged that those who want to sabotage the recently-signed Bangsamoro framework agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government are funding Sultan Kiram. You can trust BS Aquino to throw around baseless allegations anytime, anywhere. Without proof or anything that could be used to back his claim, heâ€™ll just simply blame phantom enemies for his problems.
An article from the website Free Malaysia Today tables what seems to be a convincing argument about why the Philippines enjoy a legitimate claim over Sabah. Hereâ€™s an excerpt:
It was written that on Jan 23, 1878, the Ruler of Sulu, Sultan Jamalul Alam leased Sabah (formerly known as North Borneo) to Gustavus Von Overbeck for an annual rent of equivalent 5,000 dollars through Von Overbeckâ€™s trading partner Alfred Dent. It was also recorded that this amount of money (USD1,500 per year) is still being paid to the heirs of the Sulu Sultan by the Malaysian Embassy in the Philippines until today.
The keyword in the written agreement was â€œPajakâ€ which if translated literally means â€œLeaseâ€. It was also explicitly written that the rights to Sabah cannot be transferred to any other nation or anyone else without the Sulu Sultanâ€™s express consent.
The Spaniards in Manila eventually took control of the entire Sulu Sultanate; and in 1885, Great Britain, Germany, and Spain signed the Madrid Protocol confirming Spanish influence over everything in the Philippines except Sabah which belongs to the Sultanate.
Great Britain was reminded by America in official black and white in 1906 and 1920 that Sabah does not belong to Great Britain; and was and is at all material times legally and legitimately part and parcel of the Sulu Sultanate.
The British government, however as we all know, arrogantly and unilaterally did turn Sabah into a Crown-leased Colony on July 10, 1946 even though there was a declaration by Chief Justice CFC Makaskie of the High Court of North Borneo on Dec 19, 1939 in a civil suit filed by Dayang Dayang Hadji Piandao and 8 other heirs of the Sulu Sultan including Putlih Tarhata Kiram that the successor of the Sulu Sultan in the territory of Sabah was Punjungan Kiram and not Great Britain!
Earlier on in 1941 the Constitution of the Philippines states specifically that the national territory of the Philippines includes â€œall other areas which belong to the Philippines on the basis of historical rights or legal claimsâ€ which means that the Philippines have never relinquished their claim on Sabah.
Even before Sabah joined Malaya, Sarawak, and Singapore to form Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963, numerous delegations were sent by the Philippines to London reminding the British government that Sabah belongs to the Philippines.
On Sept 12, 1962, the territory of Sabah and the full sovereignty, title and dominion over the territory were ceded by the then reigning Sulu Ruler, Sultan Muhammad Esmail E. Kiram 1 to the Republic of the Philippines during the Presidency of Diosdado Macapagal.
The cession effectively gave the Philippines government full authority to pursue their claim in the International Court of Justice at The Hague. But until today, Malaysia continues to consistently reject the Philippinesâ€™s calls to refer the matter to the ICJ.
It would be too much to ask of President BS Aquino and his staff to go over the history of the Philippines again before making any more threats to put an end to the dispute between Malaysia and Sultan Kiram. But as far as BS Aquino and his advisers are concerned, there is no dispute at all. One can only imagine the frustration of Sultan Kiram and his followers with the lack of support coming from the top.
Sultan Kiram was even excluded from the negotiations in the Bangsamoro framework with BS Aquino admitting losing a letter from the Sulu Sultan to him in 2010 asking to be consulted on the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front blaming “the bureaucratic mazeâ€ for the unfortunate circumstance. Maybe the letter got buried under the pile of paperwork that included the transfer of title of the Presidentâ€™s second hand Porsche bought in his first year in office. A mumbling President with a bumbling staff, itâ€™s no surprise the letter got lost.
Some are saying that we should let the Sabahans decide their fate. At first I agreed with that sentiment. Unfortunately, if the land doesnâ€™t belong to Malaysia and they choose to side with Malaysia then they have no choice but to leave Sabah. In principle it sounds simple, I know. It gets complicated when you realize the implication of what they have to do, which is to leave the place theyâ€™ve always called home. But then what about the heirs of the Ruler of Sulu in 1878, Sultan Jamalul Alam? They want to call Sabah their home too and they have the paperwork to prove it is theirs.
This is real life game of thrones. With a leader like President BS Aquino who is perceived to be weak and undeserving of his title, a number of individuals are all of a sudden emboldened to try to claim their throne. Sultan Kiram can be likened to Daenerys Targaryen in the popular HBO TV series and books, she is the only surviving child of King Aerys II Targaryen, who was ousted from the Iron Throne during King Robert’s Rebellion. Daenerys lives in exile in the East and has decided with her new found power and confidence, to lead the Dothraki people to claim the Iron Throne as her own and rule the Seven Kingdoms. Unfortunately, Sultan Kiram of Sulu, Philippines doesnâ€™t have petrified dragon eggs to hatch. What he has is a growing number of supporters online who can possibly breathe fire into his cause.
In life, things are not always what they seem.