Gov’t leaving Sultan no options with Phl
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - March 1, 2013 - 12:00am

A quick history of the Sulu Sultanate’s sovereignty and proprietary claims can help fathom the aftermaths of the Sabah standoff:

In 1457 the Sultanate of Sulu was founded as a sovereign nation, as were the Sultanates of Maguindanao in 1520 and Lanao in 1640. Spain never conquered them. In the 1500s the Sultan of Brunei (Borneo) wedded the granddaughter of the first Sultan of Sulu; the royal houses became related. In 1658, the grateful Sultan of Brunei bestowed Sabah (North Borneo) to the Sultan of Sulu for helping quell a rebellion. River, mountain, and coastal boundaries defined the encompassed states. Thus began the Sulu Sultanate’s sovereignty and proprietary rights.

In 1763 the British East Indies Company contracted with the Sultan of Sulu to exploit Sabah; bickering marred the deal. In 1878, having bought out the first entity, the British East India Trading Company, through (Austrian) agent Baron Gustavus von Overbeck, revived the “padjak”. The second became the British North Borneo Company, which in 1946 turned over the sovereign right to the British government. In 1963 the British government transferred Sabah to the newborn Federation of Malaysia.

Dispute sprang from the translation of “padjak”. In Sulu’s Tausug tongue then and now it means “lease,” but the treaty’s English version stated “grant” and “cede”. At any rate, the company and then Britain paid the Sultanate $5,000 yearly, which Malaysia continued with 5,300 ringgit, about P74,000 today.

In 1898 Spain relinquished the Philippine Islands to the United States. By then intertwined, the Sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao, and Lanao protested inclusion. The reply: subjugation. In 1946 the US gave the islands, including the Sultanates, to the third Philippine Republic. In 1962 the Sultan of Sulu authorized the Republic to pursue sovereignty over Sabah.

Presidents pressed the territorial claim against Malaysia, and strived to unite the branching clans of the Sultanate. Laws were passed for claim assertion and cases filed for international arbitration. In 1972 Malacañang also plotted invasion, but then annihilated the mutinous Tausug enlistees. The massacre in part sparked Moro secessionism against long-festering woes. The mostly-Tausug Moro National Liberation Front signed a peace treaty in 1996. From talks brokered by Malaysia, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, based in Maguindanao and Lanao, is about to do the same in a few weeks.

The Sulu Sultanate continued the annual proprietary collections. In the past two decades the heirs have asked Malaysia, in vain, to raise the rent to $1 million, $500 million, $855 million a year — in exchange even of renouncing their claims. Being disunited, they’ve been rejected. Presently 11 heirs profess to be Sultan; Tausugs acclaim Jamalul Kiram III.

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In ceding sovereignty right to the Republic, the Sulu Sultanate’s Ruma Bechara (Council) made a stipulation. In case the government fails or refuses to protect the claims, the Sultanate shall act in whatever manner necessary. Of late Kiram III feels forsaken by Malacañang’s non-support for higher recompense. Thus the standoff by 235 disciples, including women and armed “royal guards” under brother Raja Muda (Crown Prince) Agbimuddin, in a coastal village in Sabah.

Malacañang response has gone from testiness with an unpleasant surprise to wariness about sabotage of its truce with the MILF. Indeed Nur Misuari, founder of the now splintered MNLF, claimed that Kiram III is upset that the Sabah issue was excluded from the MILF talks. Likely it’s Misuari, two of whose wives are Sultanate heirs, who feels left out; the MILF is a breakaway from his once mighty force. Because running for governor of the Muslim Autonomous Region, Misuari’s words tend to politicize the issue. The Palace is sniffing out who supposedly induced with money the “incursion” to Sabah that naturally riled peace-broker Malaysia. Citing “excursion” while undergoing medical treatment in Manila, Kiram III likens it to a visit by an owner to his land.

At first Malacañang tried persuasion, requesting Malaysia thrice to delay any forcible, likely bloody, ejection. Through another (estranged) brother Esmail II, Kiram III was asked to order Agbimuddin’s return to Sulu, hours away by boat from Sabah. To no avail. Kiram III insisted his actions would benefit the Republic.

As two weeks passed the contacts deteriorated. President Noynoy Aquino admitted confusion with the Sabah issue, and not seeing Kiram III’s 2010 appeal for help that got lost in the bureaucratic maze. Reading the Sultan the riot act, he warned of penal sanctions for inciting to war and imperiling his followers. In turn, Kiram III’s kin recounted the 1986 EDSA Revolt, during which Filipinos faced tanks and cannons to bring down Ferdinand Marcos and install Aquino’s mother Cory as President. He also asked why Aquino is wrangling with China over the faraway Spratly Islands, when resource-rich Sabah is waiting to be claimed for the Republic.

Intermediaries suggested a tête-à-tête. Aquino’s spokesman said no way should the President talk while a gun is pointed to his head. The 235 followers must come home first. But the National Police chief is also threatening to arrest them upon return, for carrying unlicensed guns, during an election ban at that. Police have been watching Kiram III’s residence and Muslim enclaves in Manila. As if to humiliate the Sultan by dissension, the government also dispatched a ship to pick up followers who might wish to desert. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas also warned the followers that their fate is now solely in their Sultan’s hands.

His government is leaving Kiram III with no more option but to fight. Still, he shrugged, he might cut a deal with Malaysia to surrender the Sabah claim for citizenship and some rent increase. After all, Kuala Lumpur has been granting instant naturalization to Muslim migrants in Sabah from the Philippines and Indonesia. All they need to do is promise to vote for the ruling party. A general election is due at the latest ten days from April 27, when the federal and state parliaments’ terms automatically end.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).


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