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A Sulu Sultan’s solution to migrant woes

 | February 18, 2012

Since the Philippines refuses to set up a consulate in Sabah to help resolve immigrant issues, a Sulu Sultan with 'insight' offers a solution.


The most controversial and thorny issue affecting two Southeast Asian countries – Malaysia and the Philippines – is the Philippines’ claim on Sabah.

The protracted claim goes back to Sept 12, 1962, during Diosdado Macapagal’s administration when the then reigning Sultan of Sulu, Sultan Muhammad Esmail E Kiram I, by way of a power of attorney, ceded the territory of North Borneo to the Republic of the Philippines.

The cession then gave the Philippine government the full authority to pursue the claim in international courts and Macapagal used the authority to raise the claim for the first the same year.

The following year (1963), the Philippines broke diplomatic relations with Malaysia including Sabah but resumed ties through the Manila Accord signed on July 31 1963.

The Sabah claim is therefore an old but living history with its roots going back 133 years to Jan 22, 1878 when North Borneo was leased (or ceded according to the argument from the Malaysian side) to the British North Borneo Company by the then ruler of Sulu, HM Sultan Jamalul A’Lam.

The present-day consequences of this historic cession or lease is the problem of trying to persuade the Philippine government to establish a consulate in Sabah to help solve Sabah’s “mother of all problems” – the illegal (Filipino) immigrants.

Recently, the Malaysian Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, lamented the impasse, saying, “I officially informed the Philippine government that the issue is non-negotiable.

“In fact, we are almost fed up with the Philippine problems in Sabah as they do not have a consulate here.

“It is imperative they expedite the process so that problems faced by their countrymen could be addressed and resolved since there are so many Filipinos in Sabah.”

Solution to migrant woes

Anifah believes that certain Philippine officials are stoking the claim despite Malaysia’s firm stand on the issue.

Among the many curious developments related to the issue was the press conference in Kota Kinabalu in January last year by Datu Albi Ahmad Julkarnain, the self-styled “prime minister of the interim government of the Sulu sultanate” .

He pledged to find an amicable solution with the Malaysian government to drop the claim on Sabah once its new sultan, believed to be a Malaysian citizen, is installed.

It later turned out that the new sultan was none other than Akjan Ali Muhammad, who made himself the new Sulu sultan in Likas, Kota Kinabalu, on Feb 2, 2011 and sparking off livid protests and legal tangles.

The latest development is the statement of an heir of the sultanate, Datu Omar Ali Datu Bachtial.

Last Wednesday, Omar said he wanted to meet with Anifah to convey his idea on how to resolve the problem of illegal immigrants facing the state government.

Speaking rather cryptically, he said: “You must have the right people, the right information and you must know your history very well in order to resolve this.”

Omar said he “may have” some knowledge which is useful to the minister in discussing the issue with the Philippines, which has been uncooperative on Malaysia’s desire for a Philippines’ consulate to be established in Sabah.

Omar wanted at least two hours to pitch his yet unknown strategy to Anifah.

But of all the many intrigues on the matter, there is one solution offered, which holds much water in terms of its credibility and seriousness.

This offer, which is yet unknown to most Malaysians and promises to be win-win, permanent and effective, comes from Paduka Mahashari Maulana Al-Sultan Jamalul D Kiram III, Sultan of Sulu.

Sultan Kiram III

Sultan Kiram III’s special adviser, Onn Ariffin, had published two statements in the local papers last year.

One statement, on June 21, reminded the authority that Kiram I had in 1962 given Macapagal the power of attorney to pursue the claim on Sabah.

Onn proposed that the “the problem be resolved once and for all by both governments (of Malaysia and the Philippines) giving the authority to the reigning heir of Sultan Esmael Kiram [Sultan Kiram III] to negotiate with both governments”.

Onn’s proposed solution, inter alia, states: “To have a clearer overview of the situation, we all need to be reminded that the long-standing dispute of who is right and wrong about whether North Borneo was ceded or leased to Britain remains unresolved.

“Although the Philippines’ side may claim legitimacy of their stance that North Borneo was leased based on the annual lease payment to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu, there is also the contentious issue of Spain acquiring sovereignty over North Borneo in 1878 when it signed the protocol of March 7, 1885 with Germany and Great Britain.

“The protocol recognised Spanish sovereignty over ‘Jolo and its dependencies’, as well as the Macaskie Dictum of 1939, in which the heirs of Sultan Jamalul Kiram filed a suit case in the court of Borneo for the purpose of collecting the money due to them under the 1878 Grant…”

The statement from Sultan Kiram III also proposed three important steps to resolving the claims on Sabah, bearing in mind the current situation and “setting aside all these historical issues”.

“In his sincerity to achieve this resolution, His Majesty Sultan Kiram III has taken some three important steps:

“(1) He had undertaken to revoke… the services of the lawyer who was appointed to arbitrate in the matter between him and the Philippine and Malaysian governments.

“This termination also in effect invalidated all proposals and action made by the attorney Ulka T Ulama for the heirs of the Sultanate.

“This has come into effect regardless of Ulama’s continual denial of the revocation and persistence of making representation to the Philippine government, pretending to still maintain the position of legal counsel to the Sultanate.

“(2) On Feb 12, 1989, he had revoked the power of attorney issued to the Philippine government in 1962 to institute the claim on Sabah.

“This action, therefore, reinstates the power to claim Sabah for the Sultanate, and no longer within the authority and jurisdiction of the Philippines’ central government.”

What Onn is trying to say is that the power to claim Sabah is no longer in the hands of Manila because the power of attorney given to Manila has been withdrawn by Sultan Kiram III.

Therefore any claim on Sabah made by Manila today is illegitimate.

Therefore, the sole authority to make or to drop the claim is Sultan Kiram III.

Hence Onn said: “His majesty is making what we hereinafter refer to as the Kiram III Proposal, that he, on his sole authority, shall drop the claim on Sabah on the terms and conditions that the Malaysian government commits to a long-term programme of participating in the development of the Southern Philippines.”

And this proposal is made on the sound rationales that:

1. The dropping of the claim will remove the long-standing thorn in the flesh of the diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Philippines;

2. Any further neglect, apathy and procrastination on the process towards a solution to the claim will only result in the continuance of the dilemma and the negative socio-economic impacts for both countries and for the region, or Asean and BIMP-EAGA in general;

3. The ensuing agreement for economic collaboration between Malaysia and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will open the restive region to a peaceful and progressive land.

‘No better solution’

This is possible because:

a) The MNLF, the MILF, and Abu Sayyaf will be given important roles in the development process of ARMM and as such, will have little purpose in continuing with their militancy, and should lay down their arms and reap benefits in the bountiful promises of the development agenda of their land;

b) The region has a huge wealth of natural resources (fertile lands, pristine jungles, seas and a substantial oil reserve of 125 billion barrels in Southern Cebu) which collectively promises the growth of numerous industries – aquaculture, agriculture, timber, tourism, oil exploration and processing, manufacturing, shipping, aviation, banking and finance.

Onn said Kiram III also feels the annual lease payment made to the nine heirs of Kiram has become a cruel joke on the payees due to the ridiculous amount of about RM5,000, the value of which had shrunk to almost nothing due to 133 years of inflation.

“This payment, while meaningless in terms of monetary value, is also an insult to the dignity of the payees, as well as a crafty method on the part of the Malaysian government to prolong, on the cheap, the tug-of-war over the claim over Sabah.

“With a drop in the claim followed by laying down of arms by militant groups and the development of the ARMM as a new region of rapid economic growth, the current migration of people from there to Sabah in search of better livelihood will cease, removing a four-decade socio-economic burden for Sabah.

“The establishment of peace in the ARMM will pave the way to the creation of a new government which will be autonomous from the Philippines’ central government.

“In fact, a number of Philippine congressmen had espoused the establishment of a constitutional monarchy – on the same pattern as Malaysia’s system of government – and not a republic, for the ARMM,” said Onn.

Onn added that this proposal which had been conveyed by the sultan to various authorities in the Philippines had so far resulted in serious discussions being held with the Malaysian ambassador to the Philippines Dr Ibrahim Saad, and representatives of the MNLF and the Manila government.

He is planning to make a formal submission of the Kiram III Proposal to the prime minister as soon as possible.

“As far as I am concerned, the proposal has all the good rational for a really win-win solution, in which both parties, and the people of both countries, will benefit tremendously in terms of security and socio-economic development.

“There is no better or more genuine offer for solution than this one,” said Onn.


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