by Lady Michelle-Jennifer Santos and Agencies
February 28, 2013 (TSR) – More than two weeks after some 300 followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, some of them armed, occupied the village of Tanduao, in the town of Lahad Datu in the Malaysian state of Sabah, the standoff continues as both Manila and Kuala Lumpur scrambled to find a peaceful way out the impasse.
Late Wednesday, the Malaysian government agreed to extend, for the third time, its deadline for the followers of Sultan Kiram to peacefully return to Sulu in the southernmost tip of the Philippines where they came from.
The first deadline lapsed on Friday; it was extended for another 48 hours but this too expired last Tuesday but still the followers of the Sultan Kiram and the armed members of the so- called “royal army” of the Sulu sultanate refused to stand down.
The followers of Sultan Kiram, who have encamped in Tanduao since Feb. 12, are now surrounded by heavily-armed Malaysian police. Reports from Kuala Lumpur said that military units have joined the police in encircling the “intruders”.
The Tuesday Malaysian deadline prompted Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to virtually issue an ultimatum to Sultan Kiram to order his followers to return to the Philippines or face the consequences of his action.
At a press conference in Malacanang Palace, the Office of the President of the Philippines. Aquino told Kiram that because the deadline loomed, the situation was nearing “the point of no return “.
“We are fast approaching that point,” Aquino said, apparently referring to the 48-hour extended deadline imposed by Malaysian authorities for the group led by Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of the sultan, to leave the village of Tanduao in Sabah.
The President said as president and chief executor of Philippine laws, he has ordered an investigation into possible violations of law by Kiram and his followers.
Aquino warned the Sulu Sultan that he would face the “full force of the law”–possibly including arrest–unless he withdrew his armed followers from Sabah.
But just minutes after his ultimatum, the ailing Kiram said that his followers would stay put in Sabah, in effect ignoring Aquino’s ultimatum.
In a press briefing in his residence in Taguig City, a suburb of Manila, Kiram said his men would not return home “until an arrangement has been done by our officials and the President, and if that will be arranged accordingly with a written agreement signed by the parties concerned.”
The Sulu Sultan, who has been suffering from diabetes for years, said he was ready to go to jail if the government filed a case against him and members of his clan.
Kiram insisted that he is the head of the Sulu sultanate, which once controlled parts of Borneo, to which the site of the standoff belongs.
After Aquino’s ultimatum, the Department of Foreign Affairs dispatched Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Jose Brillantes to Kuala Lumpur to plead for more time to settle the standoff.
Malaysia’s extension of the deadline on Wednesday was obviously the result of the trip of Brillantes, a former Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia.
A radio report early Wednesday said Malaysia’s National Security Council (NSC) had taken over the standoff situation between the group of Sulu sultanate-led Filipino “intruders” and Malaysian authorities in Sabah.
The radio report said Deputy Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar was coordinating with Sabah police and the military in trying to resolve the standoff.
Two weeks ago, in announcing that his followers have occupied a coastal village in Sabah, Kiram said that they were forced to make the move because they were left out by the Philippine government in the forging of the framework agreement for peace in predominantly Muslim territory in the southern Philippines.
The Manila government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ( MILF) have signed in October last year the framework agreement that would guide negotiators in forging a final peace agreement between the two sides.
Kiram’s followers now in Sabah are reportedly remnants or relatives of the members of the Moro National Liberation Front ( MNLF), the original secessionist movement in Mindanao but which has signed a peace deal with the government in l996.
The present leaders of the MILF were former top commanders of the MNLF who rejected the peace deal. They then formed the MILF and vowed to continue the fight against the Manila government.
What has compounded the problem was the announcement of President Aquino that he himself is “confused” about the historical antecedents that led to the standoff.
But various historical records from 1473 to 1658 showed that Sabah was part of the Sultanate of Brunei. In l658, the sultan of Brunei ceded Sabah to the Sultan of Sulu in compensation for his help in settling a civil war in Brunei.
In January 1878, the Sulu sultanate signed an agreement to lease Sabah to the British North Borneo Company, which took over the administration of Borneo from the British empire, for 5,000 Malaysian ringgit (about 1,925 U.S. dollars) a year.
The Kirams claimed that the lease was still in effect despite the formation of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. They claimed that they continue to receive the paltry sum through the Malaysian embassy in Manila up to this time.
BRIEFING ON SABAH ISSUE
Sabah geographically is not among the Philippines Islands, but on the big island called Borneo.
Before the 16 century, the area we now know as Sabah, Brunei and Sarawak centerd around the kingdom of Brunei. In this region the kingdom of Brunei was also the center of trade with China. This region was in tum controlled by two great empires of that period; first by the Sri Vijayan of Sumatra and then by the Majapahit of Java. However, early in the 15 century, the Malacca Empire under Parameswara spread its influence and took over the trade of Brunei. Through its traders, Islam spread to Brunei by the end of the 15 century. Leadership of the Islamic faith passed to the Brunei Sultans after the fall of Malacca to the Portuguese in 1511. Under Sultan Bolkiah, the kingdom of Brunei extended its influence as far north as Luzon and Sulu, and south and west of Borneo.
Except for the Europeans, other foreigners who have had dealings with Sabah or Borneo left no written records of their activities in the region. The indigenous peoples of Borneo have no written records except oral history and traditions.
The Chinese appeared to have had trade and diplomatic ties with Borneo as early as 600 A.D. The Brunei Annals recorded the existence of a Chinese province in the Kinabatangan area. Archaeological evidence from ceramics unearthed in Borneo revealed that for centuries the Chinese had barter-traded their ceramic wares for spices.
Historically in a nutshell, North Borneo belonged to the Brunei Sultanate but was given as a gift to the Sulu Empire, which was later leased back to the British company based in Brunei.
The British became active in the area until WW2 where the Japanese took over, but British regained control of the area after that. It was then placed under administration of the British Military Administration and officially became a British Colony some time later. This is when the Sulu government lost its power over the territory.
The British continued to rule the place until 1963 when independence was granted and Sabah opted to form Malaysia together with the Malaya Peninsular, Singapore and Sarawak.
To date, Philippines occasionally claims right over Sabah (mainly for political reasons, just like they are doing now with Spratly islands with China). Philippines stopped a long time ago and must stop claiming Sabah.
There is a lot of debate about the “ownership” of Sabah, including those coming from Indonesia, but people of Sabah and Malaysia deems the claims illegitimate because it was already granted a free independent state status by the British Empire.
Throughout history, Philippines had in those days never and had not intend to exert any slightest power in the administration of the state, both immediately before and after WW2. So why now? It’s a very irrelevant debate and to start a political firestorm just for selfish reasons to win political points from the people in the name of “Nationalism”. just as when President Ferdinand E. Marcos ordered that all Philippine maps should include Sabah, but this was a mere political statement.
The Philippine government itself does not currently acknowledge and recognize the sovereignty of the Sultanate of Sulu, but based on facts, their claim has been drastically weakened. Today, quite a significant number of the population are Filipinos, but most of them are refugees who arrived in Sabah in the 70s, and the others are recent migrants seeking a better life. Some Filipino residents have assimilated into Sabahan society.
As response to the claim by Kirams, under international law there is no basis for the Philippine to claim Sabah. This is because at that time Sultan Sulu and Baron Gustav von Overbeck sign a lease which subjected to ratification by the British Government. Five (5) weeks after that is on 5 Feb 1878, Sultan Sulu signed a new treaty with Spain renewing Spanish control of Sulu. As a result, on 22 July 1878 the Spanish government informed Overbeck of his agreement with Sultan Sulu. Hence, North Borneo was under the control of the Spanish Empire.
In 1885, Britain, Germany and Spain signed a Madrid Protocol. Under that protocol, Sulu was recognised as Spanish territory, North Borneo as British, and Germany retained free trade in both. When the America took over the Phillippines from Spain in 1898, they too acknowledge the exclusion of North Borneo from the Philippine.
If that is not enough, a poll done was in Sabah, Brunei and Sarawak during the British Era (while seeking for independence), the Sabahans and Sarawakians preferred to be part of Malaysia. Brunei decided to be its own sovereign state.
Therefore, Malaysia didn’t steal Sabah but Sabah ran away from the Philippines.