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Territorial Dispute in Northern Borneo

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    TERRITORIAL DISPUTE AMONG SULTANATE OF SABAH AND MALAYSIAN GOVERNMENT Many of the Filipinos everywhere are wondering what this Sabah claims all about is. Maybe it was tackled all over on different history books and inside the classrooms. But they did not mentioned about what the Philippines’ stake on the northern islands of Borneo’s matter. On the other hand, Malaysians maybe angry now because there is a lot of attention being focused now to the Malaysian federation that they believed it was their since the British handed this territory in 1963.

    What I was trying to say here is to bring an insight to this dispute based on what I researched of the various facts (or allegations) regarding this subject. As Filipino, our main concern in this matter is bringing this article to tell that this is part of the history of the Philippines. Sabah is the northern part of Borneo. It is bordered by Sarawak on its southwestern side and Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) to the south. Sabah has a coastline of approximately 800 to 900 miles and with the South China Sea in the west and north, the Sulu Sea in the northeast and the Celebes Sea in the east.

    Sabah’s total land area is 76,115 sq km (29,388 sq miles). Sabah’s population is about 2. 5 million. It is 1,961 km from Hong Kong, 1,143 km from Manila, 1,495 km from Singapore, 1,678 km from Kuala Lumpur and 2,291 km from Taipei – note that it is nearer to Manila than Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur. North Borneo is much undeveloped and very rich in natural resources. One of the wealthiest oil producing countries is located in same island of Borneo, the tiny Sultanate of Brunei. Sabah is a relatively small geographic area in the north of Borneo islands. It was governed by the state of Malaysia.

    They claim their full rights over this territory however the Philippines also do the same. It was set aside by the recent Filipino governments to fortify the economic and political relation with Malaysia. This issue has always been in the shadows of Philippines and Malaysia relations. Many years ago Sabah initially owned by the Sultanate of Brunei until 1658 when it was grant and ceded to the Sultanate of Sulu as a disbursement for helping the Sultan of Brunei against his enemies for the rebellion in Borneo. In 1878, the Sultan of Sulu negotiated with the British North Borneo Co. nd signed an agreement for the use of Sabah that contains total sum of $5,000 Malayan Dollar a year. This contract has many versions depending on various languages like English, French and also Tausug. However on Tausug version of it said that the land was leased to the British North Borneo. Co. On April 22, 1903 Sultan Jamalul Kiram signed a document known as “Confirmation of cession of certain islands” under the ceded islands in the neighborhood of Northern Borneo because of this the 5,000 dollars per year was increased to 5,300 dollars a year to pay.

    Malaysia was federated in 16 September 1963. The United States formally reminded Great Britain in 1906 and 1920 that North Borneo did not belong to them and was still part of the Sultanate of Sulu on the idea that Spain never acquired sovereignty over North Borneo to transfer all its claims of sovereignty over North Borneo to Great Britain on the Madrid Protocol of 1885. This is so because the Sultan of Sulu did not include his territory and power in North Borneo in signing the treaty of 1878 recognizing the Spanish sovereignty over “Jolo and its dependencies.

    North Borneo was never considered a dependency of Jolo. However, the British Government ignored the reminder and still annexed the territory of North Borneo as a Crown Colony on July 10, 1946. This lease has been continued until the independence and formation of the Malaysian federation in 1963 together with Singapore, Sarawak and Malaysia. Up to these days, the Malaysians have been continuing the rental payment of 5,300 Malaysian ringgits – a 300 ringgits increased from original rent.

    In 1962 during the administration of Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal, father of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the land of North Borneo, and the full sovereignty, title and dominion over the territory were surrendered by then reigning Sultan of Sulu, HM Sultan Muhammad Esmail E. Kiram I, to the Republic of the Philippines. The cession effectively gave the Philippine government the full authority to pursue their claim in international courts.

    The Philippine Government broke their diplomatic relations with Malaysia after the federation had included Sabah in 1963 but in all probability resumed it unofficially through the Manila Accordance. The Philippines made it clear that its position on the inclusion of North Borneo in the Federation of Malaysia is subject to the final outcome of the Philippine claim to North Borneo. The Ministers (of Philippines, Malaysia, etc who attended some meeting related to the Sabah dispute) agreed that the inclusion of North Borneo in the Federation of Malaysia would not prejudice either the claim or any right there under.

    It was revealed in 1968 that President Ferdinand Marcos was training a group of Muslim Filipinos on Corregidor, an island off Manila Bay, known as Operation Merdeka for possible infiltration into Sabah to pave the way to an armed secession of Sabah from Malaysia. But upon knowing of the plans, the recruits have mutinied and were eliminated except for one that swam the bay and was rescued. The newspapers have called this incident, the “Jabidah Massacre” named after the operation that was given by the military.

    The survivor divulged the plan and the claim was put in back burner once more. It was believe that because of the incident, the Malaysians have been aiding the Muslim separatists against the Philippine government. Some people say this distracted the attention to the claim on Sabah as the government was embroiled in containing the conflict. The claim was based on several historical facts and court judgments. The rent agreement is definitely evidence or else there will be no basis for any agreement if such ownership was not recognized at all.

    The contract was between Sri Paduka Maulana Al Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam – representing the sultanate as owner and sovereign of Sabah on one hand, and that of Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent, representing the British East India Co. lately became the North Borneo Co. , on the other as lessee of Sabah, was executed on June 22, 1878. Despite the fact that the British turned over the possession and government of Sabah to the federation, the Malaysians have not give up on paying the annual rental.

    The 1939 court judgments on the claim had handed ownership of North Borneo to the heirs of the Sultanate prior to the formation of Malaysian federation in 1963. The judgment of Chief Justice C. F. C. Makaskie of the High Court of North Borneo in the civil suit filed by the late Dayang Dayang Hadji Piandao and eight other heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, including the famous Putlih (Princess) Tarhata Kiram, upheld the validity of the claim of the heirs.

    Being a British colony did they favored the Malaysians than returning the leased territory to its rightful owners as per 1939 court judgement? one also has to consider why did the British respected a similar treaty with China by returning Hong Kong instead of conducting a plebiscite just like the one conducted in Sabah in 1962, is the Philippines a weak nation that can be ignored? These are some questions that need to be addressed by those who have the mandate to pursue the Philippine claim.

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