Padilla calls on government to help Sulu sultanate heirs assert rights over Sabah

Padilla calls on government to help Sulu sultanate heirs assert rights over Sabah
Map shows Sabah, formerly known as North Borneo.
Bing Maps

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Robinhood Padilla wants the government to assist the heirs of the last sultanate of Sulu in asserting their commercial rights over Sabah.

Padilla, in a privilege speech on Tuesday night, said he was disappointed at the government’s “seemingly negligent” response to the dispute. He adds that the family is only asking for government support.

“Hindi ba napakalaking kapabayaan na hinahayaan nating umasa na lamang ang Sultanato sa tulong ng pribadong organisasyon para tustusan ang lehitimong laban?,” Padilla said.

(Doesn’t it seem negligent on the part of the government that we just let the heirs of the Sultanate seek the help of private organizations to fend for themselves in a legitimate claim?)

Although the Philippine government already recognizes the land as part of its territory, the heirs are seeking rental payment from the Malaysian government. 

The Sulu sultanate had power over southern Philippines and Sabah. But in 1963, the British government transferred Sabah to Malaysia.

However, the Philippine government said that Sabah was only leased and the sultanate’s heirs are now seeking rental payment from the Malaysian government. 

It was in 1878 when the last Sulu sultanate, Jamal Al Alam, inked a deed of lease with the British North Borneo Company. 

They leased the land initially for $5,000 before rent was hiked to $5,300. Heirs of the last Sulu sultanate received rental payments from the United Kingom from 1878 to 1962, while Malaysia shouldered the rental fees from 1963 to 2013. 

Padilla said the heirs already won a case filed with the Madrid High Court in May 2020. He also added that the Malaysian government was recently ordered by an arbitration court to pay the heirs $14.9 billion due to piled up lease payments.

DFA: Philippines not a party to litigation

Asked for comment regarding the issue, the Department of Foreign Affairs on July 14 said it will not comment publicly on the issue "as the Philippine government is not a party in this litigation."

However, Padilla on Tuesday said the government should step in as it is mandated to help its citizens.

“Bilang mga Pilipino, karapat-dapat na tulungan ng buong kapangyarihan ng ating pamahalaan ang mga tagapagmana ng Sultanato ng Sulu katulad ng pagtulong nito sa kahit sinong mamamayan sa loob at labas ng bansa,” Padilla said. 

(As Filipinos, it is only right that the government help out the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu with all that it can just like how it helps its citizens here at home.)

Padilla also said that the Philippine government’s actions to assist its own citizens should not be a source of tension between the two countries. Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III said that the two countries can settle the Sabah dispute with the help of the United Nations. 

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