Manila Never Gives Up Claims

The Malaysian government doesn't have a set of resolute policies to deal with the issue of illegal migrants in Sabah, and continues to allow Filipinos and Indonesians to flood into the state in enormous numbers. While on the one hand Manila and the descendents of Sulu Sultan have never dropped their claims on Sabah, arguing that Sabah is part of their territory and will claim it any time; on the other hand Sabahans continue to live in deep distress following the influx of illegal migrants.

According to the historical journals forwarded by the Philippines, the Sultan of Brunei ceded Sabah to the Sultan of Sulu as a token of appreciation for the latter's help in defeating invading enemies. Later, Sabah was leased to the British by the Sultan of Sulu prior to independence.

When Malaysia was established in 1963, the Philippines brought up the claim of Sabah sovereignty for the first time. However, Malaysia rejected Manila's requisition, and paid annual leases to the descendents of Sulu Sultan.

Manila and the descendents of Sulu Sultan continue to claim that Sabah is part of their territory. Leader of the Moro National Liberation Front Nur Misuari recently said he would file an appeal at the International Court of Justice to claim sovereignty over Sabah.

DAP MP for Kota Kinabalu Dr Hiew King Cheu revealed lately that the Sultan of Sulu had begun issuing birth certificates to Filipinos residing in Sabah, as a form of exercising sovereignty over the state. He warned that if the number of North Borneo birth certificates issued by the Sultan reaches hundreds of thousands, the consequences could be far beyond what we can imagine.

Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, Vice President of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), pointed out that the number of aliens in Sabah has outnumbered Malaysian citizens in the state, and it is a matter of time that the majority of aliens there will eventually "reverse take over" Sabah, as well as controlling the destiny of the state. In other words, Malaysia may be rudely confronted with the crisis of disintegration.

When interviewed, Dr Hu Yixian said it is impossible for us to know the details of the actual agreement between the Chartered Co which ruled Sabah then, and the Sultan of Sulu. Nevertheless, Malaysia continues to inherit what the British did--paying the leases to the Sultan of Sulu. From this incident, we can see that it was actually a lease, not unlike the lease of Hong Kong and New Territories to the British, or the lease of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to the United States. The only thing is that we do not know whether it was a limited lease (99 years for New Territories) or "unlimited or permanent lease" (Guantanamo Bay).

He said, if we look at the whole incident purely from the perspective of international laws, with the reversion of Hong Kong's sovereignty back to China serving as a precedent, the Phlippines could actually bring up the claim of Sabah's sovereignty.

However, if we look at the instance of Pedra Branca, then the favour should tip towards Malaysia. Since the British colonial times, Malaysia has been in effective administration over Sabah for so many years. The Philippines, meanwhile, can also claim that it has voiced its objections since the formation of Malaysia. This, coupled with Sultan of Sulu's issuance of birth certificates to Filipinos residing in Sabah, could be seen as a manifestation of Manila exercising sovereignty over Sabah.

Meanwhile, Datuk Dr Jefferey Kitingan is of the opinion that Manila's claim of Sabah sovereignty could be divided into two parts. Firstly, the "political claim" by the Philippine government; and secondly, the "estate claim" by the descendents of Sulu Sultan.

He said Manila has never exercised political rights over Sabah, but the Sultan of Sulu does have estate right over it. Having said that, the cession of Sabah to the British could be seen as the sale of that estate to the British, and could never claim sovereignty over it again. Therefore, the money Sabah state government pays to the Philippines should be construed as lease money and not rent.

He said the Malaysian government must initiate talks with Manila and the Sultan of Sulu to come up with the solutions so that the Philippines will drop its claims on Sabah. Malaysia can also consider paying a one-off sum to descendents of the Sultan to dissolve the problem once and for all.

Mutalib Mohd Daud, meanwhile, feels that since the agreement signed between the British and the Sulu Dynasty is no longer in existence, and that there is no more sultan in Sulu today, Malaysia should stop paying the lease money.

He said, as long as Malaysia continues to pay the lease money to the Philippines, Manila will continue treating Sabah as its territory, and will continue to claim sovereignty over it. Besides, the Philippines will also not set up a consulate in Sabah to address the issue of illegal migrants from that country.

Consequently, he feels that Malaysia should stop paying the lease money to Manila to stop it from continuing treating Sabah as its territory. (Sin Chew Daily)

MySinchew 2008.07.26