The Sabah Claim: A Thorn in Malaysia-Philippines Relations (PART 2)


March 7, 2013

http://www.nst.com,my

The Sabah Claim: A Thorn in Malaysia-Philippines Relations (PART 2)

INITIATIVE: Philippine leaders have, since Marcos, taken the effort to resolve the sovereignty issue, writes Dr Paridah Abd Samad

THEN Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos made a dramatic move towards normalisation of bilateral relations in 1976, just prior to an ASEAN summit meeting, when he stated that the Philippines no longer intended to press its claim to sovereignty over Sabah, though he did not officially drop it. The pronouncement, however, was never followed by any concrete action.

Corazon AquinoThe dispute dragged on into the Corazon Aquino administration, which tried to resolve the problem through revising legal and constitutional provisions to drop the claim. The Philippine Constitution of 1987 no longer includes the phrase “by historical and legal rights” as part of the definition of the national territory. Also, Senate Bill No. 206, redefining the archipelagic boundaries of the Philippines, called for amendments to Republic Acts 5546, and it particularly excluded Sabah from Philippine territory.

However, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s denouncement of Aquino’s government for endorsing the bill without consulting him and bungling by the newly installed administration kept the bill from getting through the Senate, denying Aquino a diplomatic victory of the ASEAN summit in December, 1987.

The Philippines cannot just drop its claim to Sabah to patch up differences with Malaysia, as it must first consider the repercussions of such a decision on the politically unstable Sulu Archipelago. Sabah and Moro are interrelated in prolonging settlement of the dispute and in deepening the security concerns of the Philippine government.

The transmigration of mostly Filipino Muslim refugees to Sabah has put the Philippines in a favourable position because this has significantly contributed to reducing the Muslim population ratio and its resistance strength.

In 1970, Tunku Abdul Rahman played an important role in promoting international support for the Moro cause. As Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (now Organisation of Islamic Cooperation), he endorsed the Moro case submitted to him in 1972 and asked King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and (Libyan) president (Muammar) Gaddafi to help in persuading other OIC member states to support it.

But Malaysia’s optimism and hope for a new and brighter chapter in Malaysia-Philippines relations remain unfulfilled. While the Aquino administration made the effort and took the initiative to drop the sovereignty claim on Sabah, it was unable to push through its initiative because of stumbling blocks. Senate Bill 206, which excludes Sabah from Philippine territory, remains unenacted.

Since no law has yet been passed on the dropping of Sabah claim, the Philippine government still has the option to actively pursue the claim through internationally accepted norms. By pursuing the claim, the Philippine government could promote the Philippines’ historic rights and legal title over Sabah, as well as the proprietary rights of the heirs of sultan of Sulu.

However, the 1930 treaty between the United States and Great Britain drew a precise boundary to separate their island possessions off the northeast coast of Sabah. The allocation of islands defined in these treaties was enshrined in Article 1 of the Philippine Constitution of 1935.

The Philippine claim has no known international support while Malaysia is CM Musa Amanmorally supported by Great Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations in rejecting this claim. Even the US has assumed a position of neutrality. The other Asean countries, though discreetly distancing themselves form the issue since it involves two of their fellow members, also seem to silently acknowledge Malaysia’s right to the disputed territory.

For the Philippines to drop its claim to Sabah without concessions would mean outright recognition of Malaysia’s sovereignty over Sabah. Taking this position might also jeopardise the proprietary rights of the Sultan of Sulu. In general, choosing this option appears to be damaging the national integrity.

Malaysia gave a solemn commitment to satisfactorily resolve the proprietary claim with recognised Sulu heirs once the sovereignty claim is legally and finally dropped. It sees no linkage whatsoever between the two claims. Malaysia has always insisted that sovereignty and proprietary rights over Sabah are two separate questions.

The writer is a former lecturer of UiTM Shah Alam and International Islamic University Malaysia, Gombak

5 thoughts on “The Sabah Claim: A Thorn in Malaysia-Philippines Relations (PART 2)

  1. I know there many factors in this issue but this is my layman analogy.

    In ancient war, the victorious party kill all the men and took possession of all the belongings from losing party. They rape their daughters, wives and even take them home to be their own wives or slaves. Lets say, a young girl of the losing party was married and away from home during the incident. She escaped an otherwise horrifying fate. Decades later, the victorious party claims that the girl belongs to their clan and demanded her ‘return’.

    Likewise in sabah case, the spain annihilated the sulu kingdom and took all their lands. These ‘looted’ lands later became part that formed philippines. Bacause sabah was with the british then, it was not part of the ‘loot’ that formed philippines. More than 100 years later the ‘new’ philippines claims that sabah belongs to them.

  2. Will the good Dr Paridah care to analyze this : –

    “Sabah’s position within Malaysia was reinforced by the ruling made by the International Court of Justice for Pulau Sipadan and Pulau Ligitan to remain under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of Malaysia rather than Indonesia. The Philippines had an application to intervene in the case of Sipadan Island and Ligitan Island, but was rejected by ICJ. On basis of Malaysia effectivités on Sipadan Island and Ligitan Island, the judges concluded the sovereignty of both islands are under Malaysia. Also, from the case, it is allegedly that the sovereignty of both islands were passed down from the Sultan of Sulu to Spain, the United States, Great Britain on behalf of the State of North Borneo, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and finally to Malaysia”

    Question – “if Sipadan and Ligitan is acknowledged (by the ICJ) to be part of Malaysia, what possible claims to Sabah does Philippines have? ”

    This is a dead issue. The incursion by armed bandits who happen to be of the Sulu ethnicity does not give the Philippines any justification to make any kind of claims over Sabah. This issue has been badly handled by our leaders and the media has been glorifying this issue like it has legitimacy. Sabah is part of Malaysia….period. The territorial integrity of our nation state is non-negotiable and any incursions like this by this bunch of bandits must bear the full brunt of our Military.

  3. These folks are missing the big picture. It cannot be just about a legal claim. Aren’t you guys forgetting something? The people who inhabit these places. Don’t they have a voice? Don’t they have a say? No Sulu clan is going to rule over them. No sireee …!

  4. Philippines knows its impractical to claim Sabah, even if it can win in ICJ, it will never be able to win a referendum to claim it back. But if you believe that the Philippines will not press the claim in return for something, people are deluded. Philippine’s bigger immediate threat and problem is China and likely their ally Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and it needs all the allies it can muster for that..It will give up the claim but not for free…

  5. Even when there is no or little international support for the Philippines to pursue the claim, it doesn’t automatically mean that the Philippines claim to Sabah is baseless. it only signifies Malaysia is afraid of bringing the issue to the ICJ, and the British doesn’t want to be proven wrong. if Malaysia thinks they own sabah then bring it to ICJ, so things can be finally settled peacefully.
    the Sabah issue is unique from any other issue concerning land disputes, since Sabah ownership is bounded by a contract between the British and Sultan of Sulu, it could last forever even there would no longer be British or Sultan of Sulu as long as there are heirs, and until British gives up. when the British gives up on administering Sabah they should have returned it to the rightful owner, which is the heirs of Sultan of Sulu.
    some may claim that the Sultan of Sulu or their heir lost ownership because of this and that but the thing is as long as the British pays rent to the Sultan of Sulu, it only means they still owns it. simple logic dictates..will you pay rent or lease to someone who doesnt own the property or will you pay rent or lease to someone when you own the property?
    btw, the author forgot to mention that Malaysia tried to settle the issue by offering the sultan heirs millions of dollars..and for me that means something. and that the Supreme Court of the Philippines emphasized that the Sabah claim is still active up to this point

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