GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/23 February) – Yesterday, February 22, was the deadline the Malaysian government had given for the men of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to leave their refuge in Tanduao, Lahad Datu in Sabah or the security forces would round them up to be forcibly deported. As of late yesterday, the Sultan said his men under his brother Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin would not leave and the security forces had not moved in to expel them. Will Malaysia heed the Philippines’s appeal not to use force?
In almost identical reports of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star yesterday, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III made known his government’s position: Settle the “dormant” claim peacefully. Toward this end, he has emissaries persuading the Sultan to call back his men and he has formed a group to study the claim thoroughly.
The study will take long. There is no deadline, said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. The order is to study the claim exhaustively to determine the legality and validity of the claim. For as long, the claim will stay dormant.
It is clear that he is not going to settle the claim at the sacrifice of the good diplomatic relation of the Philippines and Malaysia. In his press statement, he virtually admitted that Malaysia “has” Sabah for its “territory”, will not “give up [its] sovereignty” and “would not give away Sabah without a fight”. He acknowledge that Malaysia has “been very, very friendly” and “very, very supportive to us”, to which, he said, “as a brother nation in the ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), we also have to respond”.
This thinking of the President is crucial to the Sabah claim.
He raised critical questions:
One: “If we say that we agree that the sultan of Sulu owns Sabah, does that also mean that they own Sulu? If [they] own Sulu, can [they] suddenly say we are separate from the Philippines?”
The other: “Then, if they (sultanate) surrendered their sovereignty to the Americans when we were a colony, [then] the Philippine government, currently as a successor to that government, [now] has the right to Sulu.”
The questions bear down on the status of the Sultanate of Sulu. Is it a political entity vested with sovereignty? If not what is it? Its status is crucial to its claim of having the proprietary right over Sabah, a federal state.
The study group headed by Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. will focus on documents to determine the legality and validity of the claim. Its findings will determine the action the Aquino government will take – revive the claim or let it stay dormant to die a natural death. But its findings will not be binding to Malaysia. In fact, these will not be binding to the heirs of the Sultan if they are contrary to their interests.
But legality and validity are most crucial to the claim – the legs on which the claim stands on. Legality may be easily determined through the contracts and other documents. Validity, in addition to documentary sources, should consider existing geopolitical realities. The claim does not just involve areas of land but people with rights and democratic institutions. Should legality and validity be lacking, there is no ground for the claim to advance.
To be acceptable and binding to all parties, the legality and validity of the claim should be determined by a competent authority – the International Court of Justice or the United Nations. This is the only way to put an end to the Sabah claim.
This is the “long-term solution to the [Sabah] dispute” that the President wants to be achieved through the “cooperation among all entities” concerned. This is an appeal to Malaysia to submit the case to the ICJ or any proper instrumentality of the UN. (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)