COMMENT: A New Theory on Line?

First: The Sabah State

1st of 3 parts


GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/27 June) – Sultan Firduasi Abbas of Lanao is leading a move urging President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III to revive the Philippine claim to Sabah. This was reported by Luwaran of June 13, 2012 as gleaned from an earlier story of The Manila Times.


As long as it is unsettled, the claim will remain a thorn in the diplomatic relations of the Philippines and Malaysia. How rightful and justifiable is the claim? While it is not for us ordinary Filipinos to judge, it does not do any harm to see.




Sabah – North Borneo until 1963 – once belonged to the Brunei Sultanate. In 1658, the Sultan of Brunei ceded North Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu, a gift for his assistance in quelling a rebellion in the Sultanate of Brunei. This was long before the British and the Dutch formally colonized Borneo. At that time the Sultanate of Sulu was flourishing despite the colonization of Luzon and the Visayas by Spain.


How the Sultan of Brunei ceded North Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu, we have found no detailed accounts. Were there documents signed and sealed? Was it sealed just with words of honor between sovereigns? Whatever, the cession showed how sovereign rulers of the Malays conducted their alliances, power and acts with dignity and honor long before European intrusion.


What happened to North Borneo later illustrated how European empires, with all their claims to “civilization” backed with naked military power, ignored the graciousness, abused the hospitality and betrayed the trust of the East. Welcomed as traders, they turned usurpers to stay as colonizers. This is concretely seen in the transformation of North Borneo into Sabah federal state and the evolution of the Philippine Sabah claim.


Road to Statehood


What the Sultan of Sulu did with North Borneo after 1658, there is no available account. A century after, in 1761, by an agreement, the Sultan of Sulu allowed the British East India Company to set up a trading post in North Borneo. Thus began the British presence in the region.


[NOTE: The British East India Company, a company formed by aristocrats and wealthy merchants, was granted a Royal Charter in 1600 to engage in trade in the East Indies. However, until its dissolution in 1874, it traded mainly with India. The Company, under indirect Royal control, eventually ruled India and expanded to the Malay Peninsula and Borneo. These territories later became the Crown Colony. (From Wikipedia sources)]


According to accounts, the trading post established in 1761 failed but the British India Company held on to its rights on North Borneo by its agreement with the Sultan of Sulu. A century later, the Company became the British North Borneo Company that in 1878 leased North Borneo for 5,000 (later increased to 5,300) Malaysian dollars annually. In another account, Malaysian ringgit was based on the value of the Mexican dollar or its equivalent in gold. Part of the deal was a provision of arms.


It appeared that the North Borneo ceded to the Sultan of Sulu did not include the Labuan islands group for this was ceded to Britain by the Sultan of Brunei in 1846 to become a crown colony in 1848. In 1888, after the signing of the Madrid Protocol in1885, North Borneo became a protectorate of the United Kingdom.


[NOTE: Evidently, to the European powers, Sulu was under Spanish rule. So, while by the 1878 lease, North Borneo was recognized as belonging to the Sultan of Sulu, it was covered by the sovereignty claim of Spain. Article III of the Madrid Protocol states:

“The Spanish Government renounces, as far as regards the British government, all claims of sovereignty over the territories of the continent of Borneo, which belong, or which have belonged in the past to the Sultan of Sulu (Jolo) and which comprise the neighbouring islands of Balambangan, Banguey and Malawali, as well as all those comprised within a zone of three maritime leagues from the coast, and which form part of the territories administered by the Company styled the ‘British North Borneo Company’.” (From: Wikipedia)]


By this agreement, Spain relinquished all its claims in Borneo in exchange for the recognition of its sovereignty over Sulu Archipelago by Great Britain and Germany.


From 1946 to 1948, eleven Malay states (sultanates) and two British strait settlements formed the Malayan Union, a single British Crown Colony – later changed to Federation of Malaya which became independent in 1957. In 1963, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo joined the federation to be renamed Federation of Malaysia. As a federal state, North Borneo – renamed “State of Sabah” – attained self-government.


One fact is clear: In the transformation of North Borneo into the State of Sabah, the Bornean, Malayan and the British leaders completely ignored the Sultan of Sulu. But, quizzically, Malaysia has continued paying to the Sultan of Sulu rent of North Borneo.


[NOTE: “As of 2004, the Malaysian Embassy to the Philippines had been paying cession/rental money amounting to US$1,500 per year (about 6,300 Malaysian Ringgits to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu despite that Spain and indirectly Sulu renounced all sovereignty according to Article III of Madrid Protocol of 1885.” (From: Wikipedia)]


(Next: The Sabah Claim)


(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at