Letters to the Editor

PCID calls on Philippine government to create a Sabah Committee

The Philippine Star

On the 12th of February 2013, news reported that 100 men, some of them armed with a motley of rifles, belonging to the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu, landed on a remote village in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia. Led by Rajah Mudah (Crown Prince) Agmuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan Jamalul III, they originally stated that their purpose was peaceful: to visit their “homeland”. Later, the Rajah Mudah stated that they are reasserting their dominion over the contested territory to which the Philippines has a dormant historical claim, acting on a royal decree from the Sultan, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

As of today, the forces of the Royal Army are engaged in an uneasy standoff with Malaysian security forces: the former insisting on their right to stay, and the latter demanding that the Sultan’s men leave. The Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, on one hand, had urged the party of the Sultan to leave peacefully. On the other hand, the Moro National Liberation Front primarily based in the Sulu archipelago and led by Chairman Nur Misuari, has expressed its support of the Sultan’s Sabah claim while calling for a peaceful resolution of the situation.  

As this unanticipated event developed, there is fear that it might negatively affect the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, facilitated by the Malaysian Government. The Philippine government and the MILF had signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012, with the support of Malaysia. The rising tension over the situation in Lahad Datu needs to be resolved not just expeditiously but peacefully. It is necessary to ensure that the standoff does not deteriorate into violence. A violent resolution of the Lahad Datu situation will have negative impact on the finalization of the Philippine Government-Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace process.  

Significantly, the FAB is seen by critics to have apparently left out the MNLF and again cast aside the Sabah question. The Framework Agreement covers a territory that includes the island provinces of Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Basilan. These provinces are part of the domain of the Sultanate of Sulu, which has historical claim over Sabah. Thus, while there is no mention about Sabah in the FAB, there is a Philippine claim over Sabah, which has been brought to the International Court of Justice. Leaders of the island provinces, part of the Sultanate of Sulu, have always maintained that the historical claim to Sabah must be taken into consideration in the peace process.

In this light, the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) strongly supports a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the Sabah standoff between the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu and Malaysian security forces in Lahad Datu, Sabah. The involvement of key players, such as MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari and the Sultan of Sulu will be instrumental in resolving this impasse. They, together with the Malaysian and Philippine government leaders, must ensure that the situation does not escalate into violence. All avenues must be taken to avoid bloodshed.

The PCID also urges the Aquino administration to reactivate its pursuit of the resolution of the Philippine claim over Sabah, which it had filed before the International Court of Justice. A just and peaceful resolution of the sovereign claim of the Sulu Sultanate, erstwhile ceded to the Philippine Government, will remove a thorny issue that has caused much uncertainty in the relationship between Malaysia and the Philippines. 

Further, the Philippine Government should protect the proprietary rights of Sultan Jamalul Alam’s heirs, identified in the 1939 ruling of Chief Justice C.F.C. Macaskie of the High Court of North Borneo. The heirs were Dayang-Dayang (Princess) Hadji Piandao, who was acknowledged as the major shareholder with 3/8 share; Princess Tarhata Kiram and Princess Sakinur-InKiram, were to have 3/16th share each; Mora Napsa, Sultan Esmail Kiram, Datu Punjungan, Sitti Mariam, Sitti Jahara and Sitti Rada, who were awarded 1/24th share each.

All the principal heirs have died. The rights of their heirs, most of whom are Filipino citizens, must be protected by the Philippine Government.  

The PCID calls on the Philippine Government to create a Sabah Committee, under the Office of the President, to address the Philippine claim to Sabah. The members of the Committee should include the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Justice, Department of Local Government, Department of National Defense, Mindanao Development Authority, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, a representative of the Sultanate of Sulu as well as a representative of the heirs to Sabah. Past Philippine administrations have attempted to address the Sabah claim but were unable to reach a lasting and generally acceptable conclusion. However, this must not discourage the stakeholders and peace advocates from pursuing an inclusive, just and sustainable formula that will satisfy the concerns not just of the Philippine and Malaysian Governments but particularly of the Sulu Sultanate and the private heirs to Sabah.

The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that ye may receive Mercy.”— Office of Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy president AMINA RASUL

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