MIND DA NEWS: Different Problems, Different Answers

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 21 February) – Last February 11 (9 in another report), Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, the brother and heir apparent of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of the Sultanate of Sulu, and his security force together with some civilians landed in Sabah. Since then, they have refused to leave, firm in their stand that Sabah is part of the Sultanate and their homeland.

In his statements, the rajah mudah virtually said that the landing was their response to two situations – that the Sultanate’s claim to Sabah as its part has not been resolved and that the Sultanate and its Sabah claim have been ignored in the peace negotiation between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The Sultanate has the right to pursue its proprietary right over Sabah; but it is improper and baseless for it to demand the inclusion in the Government-MILF peace negotiation of the settlement of their Sabah claim. The Sultanate’s proprietary right over Sabah and the MILF’s pursuit of the Moro right to self determination are two different problems that call for two different answers.

The Government-MILF peace negotiation is for the political settlement – complete with economic, social and cultural components – of historic injustices and other wrongs done against the Moros by the Spanish and American rulers and, since the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth, by the Filipino majority. The Philippine Government is the respondent to the MILF demands purportedly on the behalf of the entire Moro people.

At the core of the Sabah claim is the restoration of the proprietary right of the Sultanate of Sulu over Sabah, then North Borneo. The case would involve the re-validation of the sovereignty right ceded to the Sultan of Sulu in 1658 by the Sultan of Brunei as a “thank-you gift”. The proprietary right weakened gradually through agreements of the Sultanate with British companies in 1761 and 1878 for trading purposes with the right to establish a political government for social and economic development 

In 1963, Great Britain ceded North Borneo to Malaya when it formed the Federation of Malaysia. In recognition of the Sultanate’s proprietary right over what is now Sabah, Malaysia renewed the lease or rent for another 50 years – to expire this year. In some statements to the press, the heirs of the Sultan who leased North Borneo to the North Borneo Company in 1878 intimated their desire to have the rent increased.

As it is, the Sabah claim is a complicated and sensitive problem. Its solution will entail the judicial scrutiny of agreements, other documents, and relevant circumstances and events to ascertain their intents and implications concerning the sovereignty and proprietary rights of the Sultanate of Sulu over Sabah. It may be necessary to determine whether those rights are still valid after a lapse of four centuries. The International Court of Justice is the right venue for the case.

There have been tremendous changes in the international political systems, theories and doctrines. The colonies have been given independence and peoples have now rights to self-determination. Not to be ignored in the Sabah claim is the RSD (Right to Self Determination) of the Sabahans a militant segment of whom is agitating to separate, like Singapore, from the Federation. The Sabah claim calls for the intervention of the United Nations.

The issues in the Sabah claim are beyond the realm of the peace negotiation between the Philippine Government and the MILF. Yet, for all the complexities and sensitivity of the issues, the primary beneficiaries of the claim are only the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer (February 16, 2013: Heirs of Sultan of Sulu pursue Sabah Claim on their own) reported: “Crown Prince Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram said in an interview with the Inquirer that the government appeared to have neglected the heirs and ignored their stand that their claim to Sabah was an ‘integral and essential’ aspect of any peace agreement with any armed group in Mindanao.” Yet, they admitted of having been consulted and of supporting the peace talks as asked.

The heirs have presumed wrongly the government’s intention in consulting them. Their feeling of having been “neglected” and of their stand having been “ignored” betrays their frustration over their Sabah claim. How the “claim” has become “an ‘integral and essential’ aspect of any peace agreement with any armed group in Mindanao” is beyond normal comprehension.

To reiterate, the Philippine Government is the respondent in the MILF demands for redress of historical wrongs against the Moro people; the Malaysian Government is the respondent in the Sabah claim. The MILF demands and the Sabah claim are different problems and have different answers. (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)