.mw-parser-output .legend{page-break-inside:avoid;break-inside:avoid-column}.mw-parser-output .legend-color{display:inline-block;min-width:1.25em;height:1.25em;line-height:1.25;margin:1px 0;text-align:center;border:1px solid black;background-color:transparent;color:black}.mw-parser-output .legend-text{}  Territory in the 1878 agreement: from the Pandassan River on the north west coast to the Sibuco River in the south[1]
  Territory in the 1878 agreement: from the Pandassan River on the north west coast to the Sibuco River in the south[1]

The North Borneo dispute, also known as the Sabah dispute, is the territorial dispute between Malaysia and the Philippines over much of the eastern part of the state of Sabah. Sabah was previously known as North Borneo prior to the formation of the Malaysian federation.[2]

The Philippines, presenting itself as the successor state of the Sultanate of Sulu, retains a "dormant claim" on Eastern Sabah on the basis that the territory was only leased to the British North Borneo Company in 1878, with the sovereignty of the Sultanate (and subsequently the Republic) over the territory never having been relinquished.[3] However, Malaysia considers this dispute as a "non-issue", as it interprets the 1878 agreement as that of cession,[4] and it deems that the residents of Sabah (including Eastern Sabah) had exercised their right to self-determination when they joined to form the Malaysian federation in 1963.[5]

1878 Agreement

Grant by Sultan of Sulu of territories and lands from Pandasan River to Sibukun River on the mainland of the Island of Borneo
Grant by Sultan of Sulu of territories and lands from Pandasan River to Sibukun River on the mainland of the Island of Borneo

The 1878 agreement was written in Malay using the Jawi script, in which the contentious wordings are as follows:

sudah kuredhai pajakkan dengan keredhaan dan kesukaan kita sendiri kepada tuan Gustavus Baron von Overbeck yang tinggal dalam negeri Hong Kong dan kepada Alfred Dent Esquire yang tinggal dalam negeri London... sampai selama-lamanya sekalian perintah dan kuasa yang kita punya yang takluk kepada kita di tanah besar Pulau Borneo dari Sungai Pandasan di sebelah barat sampai sepanjang semua tanah di pantai sebelah timur sejauh Sungai Sibuku di sebelah selatan.[6]

The keyword in the agreement is the ambiguous term pajakkan, a Malay term which was translated by Spanish linguists in 1878 and by American anthropologists H. Otley Beyer and Harold Conklin in 1946 as "arrendamiento" or "to lease".[7][8][9] However, the British used the interpretation of historian Najeeb Mitry Saleeby in 1908 and William George Maxwell and William Summer Gibson in 1924, which translated pajakkan as "to grant and cede".[10][11][12][13]

It can be argued however, that pajakkan means "to mortgage" or "pawn" or even "wholesale", as per the contemporary meaning of pajakkan in Sulu and Malay, which essentially means that the land is pawned in perpetuity for the annual cession money, and the sultanate would need to repay the entire infinite value of the territory to redeem it back.[14][15] Furthermore, the term selama-lama, which means "forever" or "in perpetuity", indicates a binding effect beyond the lifetime of the then sultan.

Another contentious translation is in the exclusive authority of the said territory, that is whereby in the original Jawi text (in Malay language) and the British translation, Her Britannic Majesty (in Malay, it is written as Duli Queen) holds exclusive power on the transfer of the said territory and any arbitration will solely be decided by the Britannic Majesty’s Consul-General for Borneo, this translation is replaced as "Their Majesties Government" in the Sulu translation.

The ambiguity led to the different interpretation of the original Malay text. A full transcription and translation of the original Malay text in 1878 agreement is as follows, and contentious translations by both Sulu and British counterparts are highlighted:

Original Jawi text written in Malay Rumi transcription in Malay
بهوا اداله كيت سري فادوكمولانا السلطان محمد جمالالا عظم ابن سري فادوكالسلطان محمد فذلٌ سلطاندالم نڬري سولوق
سرة سكالين دايره تعلوقڽ كارن ديري كيت سنديري دان كارن واريث٢ دان فڠڬنتي٢ كيت سرة دڠن كريضأن سكلين داتوء٢يڠ
سده برموفقة سده كريضاءي فاجاقكن دڠن كريضأن دان كسوكأن كيت سنديري كفد توان ڬوستيس بارون دي اوبربق يڠ تڠڬل
د نڬري هوڠكڠ دان كفد الفريد دينت اسكوير يڠ تڠڬل د نڬري لندان
يڠ منجادي واكيل سواة كمفني اڠڬريس برسام٢ سرة واريث٢ڽ دان
كوڠسيڽ دان فڠڬنتيڽ دان واليڽ سمفي سلملماڽ
سكلين فرنته دان كواس يڠ كيت فوڽ اتس سكلين ججاهن٢ دان تانه٢ يڠ
تعلوق كفد كيت د تانه بسر فولو بروني دري سوڠي فنداسن
د سبله بارت سمفي سفنجڠ سموا تانه٢ د فنتي سبله تيمور سجاوه سوڠي سبوكو
د سبله سلاتن يڠترماسوق سكلين ججاهن٢ د فنتي سوڠي فنداسان دان فسيسر فيتن دان سوڬوة دان بڠڬاي دان لابوق دان سنداكن دان
چينابتاڠن دان مميڠ سرة سكلين لاين٢ ججاهن٢ دان فسيسر٢ د سبله سلاتنڽ ايت د فنتي تلوق دربل سمفي سوڠي سبوكو برسام٢
سكلين فولو٢ يڠ ترماسوق دالمڽ اية سجاوه سمبيلن ميل دري تفي لاوت. ادفون سبب تله دانڬرهكن فجاكن اين مك توان ڬستبس
بارون دي اوبربق دان الفريد دينت اسكوير يڠترسبوة اية برجنجي ممباير كفد سري فدوك مولانا السلطان محمد جمالالا عظم دان كفد
واريث٢ڽ دان كفد فڠڬنتيڽ٢ اكن جادي فمبايرن ليم ريبو رڠڬيت فد ساتو تاهون اكن دباير فد تيف٢ تاهون
ادفون ججاهن٢ يڠترسبوة اية درفد هاري اين سده دفاجقكن كفد توان ڬستبس بارون دي اوبربق دان كفد الفريد دينت
اسكوير يڠترسبوة اية برسام٢ دان كفد واريث٢ڽ دان كفد كوڠسيڽ دان كفد فڠڬنتيڽ اتو كفد واليڽ سمفي سبراف لام يڠ دياڽ
سوكا ماو فاكي فسيسر اية تتافي تياداله بوله سكالي٢ كواس دان فرنته
يڠ دكريضأي دالم فجاكن اين دبري اتو دتوكركن كفد لاين بڠسا
اتو كمفني درفد بڠسا اسيڠ كالو تياد دڠن كريضأن فرنته باوه دولي كوين ترلبه دهولو
سباڬيلاڬي جكالو اد بربڠكيت كمدين هاري
اف٢ فربنتاهن اتو فرسليسهن انتارا كيت دان واريث٢ دان فڠڬنتي٢ كيت دڠن توان ڬستبس بارون دي اوبربق اتو كفد كمفنيڽ
مك كامي انتارا كدوا فيهق اكن مڽراهكن فركارا اين كفد اختيار دان فيكران باوه دولي كوين فوڽ كنسيل جنرال د نڬري بروني.
دانلاڬي جكالو كيت سري فدوك مولانا السلطان محمد جمالالا عظم دان واريث٢ دان فڠڬنتي٢ كيت اد مندافة اف٢ سوسه
كمدين هاري مك توان ڬستبس بارون دي اوبربق دان كمفنيڽ برجنجي اكن منولڠ ممبري نصيحة دان اجرن كفد كيت دڠن سبوليه٢ڽ
ترمكتوب سورة فرجنجين اين دالم نڬري سولك د استان سلطان محمد جمالالا عظم كفد ١٩ هاري بولن محرام ١٢٩٥ سَنَة
يأية كفد 22 هاري بولن جنواري تاهن 1878
Bahawa adalah kita Seri Paduka Maulana as-Sultan Muhammad Jamalul A’zam Ibni Seri Paduka as-Sultan Muhammad Fadhlun sultan dalam negeri Suluk
serta sekalian daerah takluknya kerana diri kita sendiri dan kerana waris-waris dan pengganti-pengganti kita serta dengan keredhaan sekalian dato’-dato’ yang
sudah bermuafakat sudah keredhai pajakkan dengan keredhaan dan kesukaan kita sendiri kepada tuan Gustavus Baron De Overbeck yang tinggal
di negeri Hong Kong dan kepada Alfred Dent Esquire yang tinggal di negeri London
yang menjadi wakil suatu kompeni Inggeris bersama-sama serta waris-warisnya dan
kongsinya dan penggantinya dan walinya sampai selama-lamanya
sekalian perintah dan kuasa yang kita punya atas sekalian jajahan-jajahan dan tanah-tanah yang
takluk kepada kita di tanah besar Pulau Borneo dari Sungai Pandasan
di sebelah barat sampai sepanjang semua tanah-tanah di pantai sebelah timur sejauh Sungai Sibuku
di sebelah selatan yang termasuk sekalian jajahan di pantai Sungai Pandasan dan pesisir Paitan dan Sugut dan Bonggaya dan Labuk dan Sandakan dan
Kinabatangan dan Mumiang serta sekalian lain-lain jajahan-jajahan dan pesisir-pesisir di sebelah selatannya itu di pantai Teluk Darvel sampai Sungai Sibuku bersama-sama
sekalian pulau-pulau yang termasuk dalamnya itu sejauh sembilan mil dari tepi laut. Adapun sebab telah dianugerahkan pajakan ini maka tuan Gustavus
Baron de Overbeck dan Alfred Dent Esquire yang tersebut itu berjanji membayar kepada Seri Paduka Maulana as-Sultan Muhammad Jamalul A’dzam dan kepada
waris-warisnya dan kepada pengganti-penggantinya akan jadi pembayaran lima ribu ringgit pada satu tahun akan dibayar pada tiap-tiap tahun.
Adapun jajahan-jajahan yang tersebut itu daripada hari ini sudah dipajakkan kepada tuan Gustavus Baron von Overbeck dan kepada Alfred Dent
Esquire yang tersebut itu bersama-sama dan kepada waris-warisnya dan kongsinya dan kepada penggantinya atau kepada walinya sampai seberapa lama yang dianya
suka mau pakai pesisir-pesisir itu tetapi tiadalah boleh sekali-sekali kuasa dan perintah
yang dikeredhai dalam pajakan ini diberi atau ditukarkan kepada lain bangsa
atau kompeni daripada bangsa asing kalau tiada dengan keredhaan perintah bawah duli Queen terlebih dahulu.
Sebagai lagi jikalau ada berbangkit kemudian hari
apa-apa perbantahan atau perselisihan antara kita dan waris-waris dan pengganti-pengganti kita dengan Tuan Baron de Overbeck atau kepada kompeninya
maka kami antara kedua pihak akan menyerahkan perkara ini kepada ikhtiar dan fikiran ke bawah duli Queen punya Konsil Jeneral di negeri Berunei.
Dan lagi jikalau kita Seri Paduka Maulana as-Sultan Muhammad Jamaulu A’dzam dan waris-waris dan pengganti-pengganti kita ada mendapat apa-apa susah
kemudian hari maka tuan Gustavus Baron de Overbeck dan kompeninya berjanji akan menolong memberi nasihat dan ajaran kepada kita dengan seboleh-bolehnya.
Termaktub surat perjanjian ini dalam negeri Suluk di istana Sultan Muhammad Jamalul A’dzam kepada 19 hari bulan Muharram 1295 sanah,
iaitu kepada 22 hari bulan Januari 1878.
English translation (British version)[16] English translation (Sulu version)[17]
WE Sri Paduka Maulana Al Sultan Mohamet Jamal Al Alam Bin Sri Paduka Al Marhom Al Sultan Mohamet Fathlon Sultan of Sulu
and the dependencies thereof on behalf of ourselves our heirs and successors and with the consent and advice of the Datoos
in council assembled hereby grant and cede of our own free and sovereign will to Gustavus Baron de Overbeck
of Hong Kong and Alfred Dent Esquire of London
as representatives of a British Company co-jointly their heirs
associates successors and assigns for ever and in perpetuity
all the rights and powers belonging to us over all the territories and lands
being tributary to us on the mainland of the island of Borneo commencing from the Pandassan River
on the north-west coast and extending along the whole east coast as far as the Sibuco River
in the south and comprising amongst other the States of Paitan, Sugut, Bangaya, Labuk, Sandakan,
Kina Batangan, Mumiang, and all the other territories and states to the southward thereof
bordering on Darvel Bay and as far as the Sibuco river with
all the islands within three marine leagues of the coast. In consideration of this grant the said
Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent promise to pay as compensation to His Highness the
Sultan Sri Paduka Maulana Al Sultan Mohamed Jamal Al Alam his
heirs or successors the sum of five thousand dollars per annum.
The said territories are hereby declared vested in the said Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent
Esquire co-jointly their heirs associates successors or assigns for as long as they
choose or desire to hold them. Provided however that the rights and privileges
conferred by this grant shall never be transferred to any other nation
or company of foreign nationality without the sanction of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government first being obtained.
In case any dispute shall arise
between His Highness the Sultan his heirs or successors and the said Gustavus Baron de Overbeck or his Company,
it is hereby agreed that the matter shall be submitted to Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul-General for Borneo.
The said Gustavus Baron de Overbeck on behalf of himself and his Company further promises to assist
his Highness the Sultan his heirs or successors with his best counsel and advice whenever His Highness may stand in need of the same.
Written in Lipuk in Sulu at the Palace of His Highness Mohamet Jamal Alam on the 19th Moharam A.H. 1295,
answering to 22 January, A.D. 1878.
We, Sri Paduka Maulana Al Sultan MOHAMMED JAMALUL ALAM, Son of Sari Paduka Marhum Al Sultan MOHAMMED PULALUM, Sultan of Sulu
and of all dependencies thereof, on behalf of ourselves and for our heirs and successors, and with the expressed desire of all Datus
in common agreement, do hereby desire to lease, of our own free will and satisfaction, to Gustovus Baron de Overbeck
of Hong Kong, and to Alfred Dent, Esquire, of London,
who act as representatives of a British Company, together with their heirs,
associates, successors, and assigns forever and until the end of time,
all rights and powers which we possess over all territories and lands
tributary to us on the mainland of the Island of Borneo, commencing from the Pandassan River
on the east, and thence along the whole east coast as far as the Sibuku River
on the south, and including all territories, on the Pandassan River and in the coastal area, known as Paitan, Sugut, Banggai, Labuk, Sandakan,
China-batangan, Mumiang, and all other territories and coastal lands to the south,
bordering on Darvel Bay, and as far as the Sibuku River, together with
all the islands which lie within nine miles from the coast. In consideration of this (territorial?) lease, the honorable
Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent, Esquire, promise to pay His Highness Maulana
Sultan Mohammed Jamalul Alam and to his heirs
and successors, the sum of five thousand dollars annually, to be paid each and every year.
The above-mentioned territories are from today truly leased to Mr. Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and to Alfred Dent,
Esquire, as already said, together with their heirs, their associates (company) and to their successors and assigns for as long as they
choose or desire to use them; but the rights and powers
hereby leased shall not be transferred to another nation,
or a company of other nationality, without the consent of Their Majesties Government.
Should there be any dispute, or reviving of old grievances of any kind,
between us, and our heirs and successors, with Mr. Gustavus Baron de Overbeck or his Company,
then the matter will be brought for consideration or judgment to Their Majesties’ Consul-General in Brunei.
Moreover, if His Highness Maulana Al Sultan Mohammed Jamalul Alam, and his heirs and successors, become involved in any trouble or difficulties hereafter,
the said honorable Mr. Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and his Company promise to give aid and advice to us within the extent of their ability.
This treaty is written in Sulu, at the Palace of the Sultan Mohammed Jamalul Alam on the 19th day of the month of Muharam, A.H. 1295;
that is on the 22nd day of the month of January, year 1878.
Left: The first concession treaty was signed by Sultan Abdul Momin of Brunei on 29 December 1877, appointing Baron de Overbeck as the Maharaja Sabah, Rajah Gaya and Sandakan.[18]Right: The second concession treaty was signed by Sultan Jamal ul-Azam of Sulu on 22 January 1878 also appointing Baron de Overbeck as Dato Bendahara and Raja Sandakan, approximately three weeks after signature of the first treaty.[19][20][21]
Left: The first concession treaty was signed by Sultan Abdul Momin of Brunei on 29 December 1877, appointing Baron de Overbeck as the Maharaja Sabah, Rajah Gaya and Sandakan.[18]
Right: The second concession treaty was signed by Sultan Jamal ul-Azam of Sulu on 22 January 1878 also appointing Baron de Overbeck as Dato Bendahara and Raja Sandakan, approximately three weeks after signature of the first treaty.[19][20][21]
Sultan of Sulu and Suite
Sultan of Sulu and Suite

Throughout the British administration of North Borneo, the British government continued to make the annual "cession money" payment to the sultan and his heirs, and these payments were expressly shown in the receipts as "cession money".[22] In a 1961 conference in London, during which a Philippine and British panel met to discuss the Philippine claim of North Borneo, the British panel informed the Philippine congressman, Jovito Salonga, that the wording of the receipts had not been challenged by the sultan or his heirs.[23]

During a meeting of Maphilindo between the Philippine, Malayan and Indonesian governments in 1963, the Philippine government said the sultan of Sulu wanted the payment of 5,000 from the Malaysian government.[24] The first Malaysian prime minister at the time, Tunku Abdul Rahman, said he would go back to Kuala Lumpur and get on the request.[24][25] Malaysia considers the amount an annual "cession" payment for the land, while the sultan's descendants consider it "rent".[26]

The foregoing Sulu claim rests on the treaty signed by Sultan Jamalul Alam of Sulu appointing Baron de Overbeck as Dato Bendahara and Raja Sandakan on 22 January 1878. However, a further, earlier treaty signed by Sultan Abdul Momin of Brunei appointed Baron de Overbeck as the Maharaja Sabah, Rajah Gaya and Sandakan. This was signed on 29 December 1877, and granted the territories of Paitan as far as the Sibuco River,[27] which overlaps the Sulu Sultanate's claim of their dominion in Sabah.[19]

1885 Madrid Protocol

The Madrid Protocol in 1885 making North Borneo under the control of the British North Borneo Company while the Sulu Archipelago and the rest of the Philippine islands was under the control of the Spanish East Indies.
The Madrid Protocol in 1885 making North Borneo under the control of the British North Borneo Company while the Sulu Archipelago and the rest of the Philippine islands was under the control of the Spanish East Indies.

As attested to by the International Court of Justice in 2002, the sultan of Sulu relinquished the sovereign rights over all his possessions in favour of Spain, based on the "Bases of Peace and Capitulation" signed by the sultan of Sulu and the crown of Spain in Jolo on 22 July 1878.[28] The sultan declared beyond discussion the sovereignty of Spain over all the Archipelago of Sulu and the dependencies thereof.[29]

In 1885, Great Britain, Germany and Spain signed the Madrid Protocol to cement Spanish influence over the islands of the Philippines. In the same agreement, Spain relinquished all claims to North Borneo which had belonged to the sultanate in the past in favour of Great Britain.[30]

The Spanish Government renounces, as far as regards the British Government, all claims of sovereignty over the territories of the continent of Borneo, which belong, or which have belonged in the past to the Sultan of Sulu (Jolo), and which comprise the neighbouring islands of Balambangan, Banguey, and Malawali, as well as all those comprised within a zone of three maritime leagues from the coast, and which form part of the territories administered by the Company styled the "British North Borneo Company".

— Article III, Madrid Protocol of 1885

1903 Confirmation of cession of certain islands

1903 Confirmation by Sultan of Sulu of cession of certain islands, transcription of first paragraph in Arabic Malay Script Jawi and Romanized Malay script. Red text is translated as "we hereby have willingly surrendered to the Government of British North Borneo"
1903 Confirmation by Sultan of Sulu of cession of certain islands, transcription of first paragraph in Arabic Malay Script Jawi and Romanized Malay script. Red text is translated as "we hereby have willingly surrendered to the Government of British North Borneo"

On 22 April 1903, the successor of Sultan Jamalul Alam, Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, signed a document known as the "Confirmation of cession of certain islands", under which he grant and ceded additional islands, in addition to the land agreed upon in 1878, in the vicinity of the mainland of North Borneo from Banggi Island to Sibuku Bay to the British North Borneo Company.[31]

In the 1903 agreement, the ambiguous term pajakkan was no longer used, but instead the phrase kita telah keredhai menyerahkan kepada pemerintah British North Borneo, which literally means "we have willingly surrendered to the Government of British North Borneo", was used in the agreement, asserting the understanding of the Sulu Sultanate of that time of the meaning of the earlier agreement in 1878.[32]

The confirmatory deed of 1903 makes it known and understood between the two parties that the islands mentioned were included in the cession of the districts and islands mentioned on 22 January 1878 agreement. The originally agreed 5,000 dollars increased to 5,300 dollars per year payable annually.[33][34][35][note 1]

1939 Macaskie decision

Charles Frederick Cunningham Macaskie (1888–1969), c. 1910–1920
Charles Frederick Cunningham Macaskie (1888–1969), c. 1910–1920

In 1939, propriety claimants Dayang Dayang Hadji Piandao and eight other heirs filed a civil suit regarding the "cession money" payable to the heirs of the sultan of Sulu—the then incumbent Jamalul Kiram II having died childless in June 1936. Chief Justice Charles Frederick Cunningham Macaskie of the High Court of North Borneo ruled on the share entitlement of each claimant.[36]

This ruling has often been quoted by proponents of the Sulu Sultanate's claim as proof of North Borneo's acknowledgment of the sultan's ownership of the territory, although it was made solely to determine who as heir was entitled to the "cession money" of 5,300 Malaysian ringgit per year.

Philippine claim

Map of the British North Borneo with the yellow area covered the Philippine claim to eastern Sabah, presented by the Philippine Government to ICJ on 25 June 2001[37]
Map of the British North Borneo with the yellow area covered the Philippine claim to eastern Sabah, presented by the Philippine Government to ICJ on 25 June 2001[37]
Annual "Cession Money" payment by Malaysian Embassy to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu
Annual "Cession Money" payment by Malaysian Embassy to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu

The Sultanate of Sulu was granted the north-eastern part of the territory as a prize for helping the Sultan of Brunei against his enemies in 1658.[38] However, on 22 July 1878, the sultan of Sulu relinquished the sovereign rights over all his possessions in favour of Spain, based on the "Bases of Peace and Capitulation" signed by the sultan of Sulu and representatives of the Spanish government in Jolo. The Spanish then claimed the area in northern Borneo, but ended its claim soon under the Madrid Protocol of 1885, after the United Kingdom and Germany recognised its presence in the Philippine archipelago in return for the Spanish to stop interfering the British affairs in northern Borneo.[30] Once the protocol had been ratified, the British North Borneo Chartered Company proceeded with the administration of North Borneo, and in 1888, North Borneo became a British protectorate.[39]

On 15 July 1946, the North Borneo Cession Order in Council, 1946, declared that the State of North Borneo is annexed to the British Crown, hence becoming a British colony.[40] In September 1946, F. B. Harrison, former American governor-general of the Philippines, urged the Philippine government to protest this proclamation. The United States posited the claim on the premise that Spain had never acquired sovereignty over North Borneo, and thus did not have the right to transfer claims of sovereignty over North Borneo to the United Kingdom in the Madrid Protocol of 1885.[41] This argument however, contradicts the treaty made between Spain and the Sultanate of Sulu in 1878, which expressly states that all of the territory of the Sultanate of Sulu is relinquished to Spain. Furthermore, the American view may be based on an erroneous interpretation[according to whom?] of that part of the 1878 and the earlier 1836 treaties, that excluded North Borneo from the Sulu transfer to Spanish sovereignty (when in fact the exclusion merely referred to Spanish protection offered to the Sultan of Sulu in case he was attacked).[citation needed] The United States-based government also refused to intervene in the dispute, officially maintaining a neutral stance on the matter and continuing to recognise Sabah[according to whom?] as part of Malaysia.[better source needed] [42]

Exchange of notes constituting an agreement relating to the implementation of the Manila Accord of 31 July 1963 between Philippines and Malaysia[43]
Exchange of notes constituting an agreement relating to the implementation of the Manila Accord of 31 July 1963 between Philippines and Malaysia[43]

On 12 September 1962, during President Diosdado Macapagal's administration, the Philippine government claimed the territory of North Borneo, and the full sovereignty, title and dominion over it were "ceded" by the heirs of the sultan of Sulu, Muhammad Esmail E. Kiram I, to the Philippines.[44] The Philippines broke off diplomatic relations with Malaysia after the federation was formed with Sabah in 1963, but probably resumed relations unofficially through the Manila Accord, in which the Philippines made it clear that its position on the inclusion of North Borneo in the Federation of Malaysia was subject to the outcome of the Philippine claim to North Borneo.[43] The representatives of Indonesia and the Federation of Malaya seconded that the inclusion of North Borneo into the aforementioned Federation "would not prejudice either the claim or any right thereunder".[45] It was revealed later in 1968 that President Ferdinand Marcos was training a team of militants on Corregidor known as Operation Merdeka for infiltration into Sabah.[46] The plan failed as a result of the Jabidah massacre.[47][48]

Republic Act No. 5446 of the Philippines, which took effect on 18 September 1968, regards Sabah as a territory "over which the Republic of the Philippines has acquired dominion and sovereignty".[49] On 16 July 2011, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that the Philippine claim over Sabah is retained and may be pursued in the future.[50]

Attempts at withdrawing claim

At the ASEAN Summit on 4 August 1977, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos announced that the Philippines would take "definite steps to eliminate one of the burdens of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — the claim of the Philippine Republic to Sabah".[51][52] The statement, however was not followed through,[53] despite negotiations[54] and reassurances made by Marcos again in 1984 with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.[52]

Following the overthrow of Marcos, President Corazon Aquino sought to officially drop the claim before the 1987 ASEAN Summit.[55] A bill to repeal Republic Act 5446 was filed by Leticia Ramos Shahani in the Philippine Senate in 1987.[54] The bill was widely criticised for effectively dropping the country's claim over the territory. Muslim members of Congress also voiced their strong opposition to the measure for fears it would "endanger" the proprietary rights of the Sultanate of Sulu. This eventually led Shahani to not pursue the bill's passage.[56][57]

While Aquino's successor Fidel V. Ramos was similarly unable to obtain consensus to drop the claim, he officially put the dispute aside in order to improve ties with Malaysia. Later, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was similarly unable to gain consensus on the matter. The 2009 Philippine baseline law does not include Sabah within Philippine territory, although the Philippine Government at the time stated that this did not affect the claim.[55]

Formation of Malaysia

Prior to the formation of the Malaysia, two commissions of enquiry visited North Borneo, along with neighbouring Sarawak, to establish the state of public opinion there regarding merger with Malaya (and Singapore). The commission was mandated to address self-determination of the people of Sabah, i.e., the right of the people of Sabah to freely determine their own political status and freely pursue their own economic, social and cultural development.

The first commission, known as the Cobbold Commission, was established by the Malayan and British governments and was headed by Lord Cobbold, along with two representatives of Malaya and Britain (but neither of the territories under investigation). The Commission found that 'About one third of the population of each territory [i.e. of North Borneo and of Sarawak] strongly favours early realisation of Malaysia without too much concern over terms and conditions. Another third, many of them favourable to the Malaysia project, ask, with varying degrees of emphasis, for conditions and safeguards. The remaining third is divided between those who insist upon independence before Malaysia is considered and those who would strongly prefer to see British rule continue for some years to come'.[58]

The Commission published its report on 1 August 1962 and made several recommendations. Unlike in Singapore, however, no referendum was ever conducted in North Borneo and Sarawak.[59] Notably, the "referendum" did not involve the entire population of North Borneo and Sarawak at that time, but only representative consultations.[60] The UN mission report stated that "[t]here was no reference to a referendum or plebiscite in the request..." and that "[t]he Mission accordingly arranged for consultations with the population through the elected representatives of the people, leaders of political parties and other groups and organisations, and with all persons who were willing to express their views".[61][62] Indonesia and the Philippines rejected the findings of the Cobbold Commission.

The Manila Accord

Manila Accord between the Philippines, the Federation of Malaya, and Indonesia signed at Manila on 31 July 1963[63]
Manila Accord between the Philippines, the Federation of Malaya, and Indonesia signed at Manila on 31 July 1963[63]

In July 1963, a tripartite meeting was held in Manila between Indonesian president Sukarno, Philippines president Diosdado Macapagal and Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. The three heads of state signed an agreement known as the Manila Accord where Indonesia and the Philippines stated that they would welcome the formation of Malaysia "provided the support of the people of the Borneo territories is ascertained by an independent and impartial authority, the Secretary-General of the United Nations or his representative," and provided further that "the inclusion of North Borneo as part of Malaysia would not prejudice either the claim or any right thereunder" by the Philippines to the territory.

Pursuant to the Accord, a United Nations mission to Borneo was thus established that same year, comprising members of the UN Secretariat from Argentina, Brazil, Ceylon, Czechoslovakia, Ghana, Pakistan, Japan and Jordan.[64] The Mission's report, authored by UN Secretary-General U Thant found ‘a sizeable majority of the people' in favour of joining Malaysia.[65][66] Indonesia and the Philippines subsequently rejected the report's findings – and Indonesia continued its semi-military policy of konfrontasi towards Malaysia.[67][68] The new Federation of Malaysia was proclaimed on 16 September 1963.

In a note verbale dated 7 February 1966, the government of Malaysia put itself on record "that it has never moved away from the Manila Accord of 31 July 1963 and the Joint Statement accompanying it and reiterates its assurance that it will abide by these agreements, particularly paragraph 12 of the said Manila Accord" (where Malaysia agreed that the inclusion of North Borneo in the Federation of Malaysia would not prejudice either the claim or any right of the Philippines to the territory) and "paragraph 8 of the Joint Statement" (where all parties agreed to seek a just and expeditious solution to the dispute by means of negotiation, conciliation and arbitration, judicial settlement, or other peaceful means of the parties' own choice in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations).[43] In other words, this note verbale affirmed Malaysia's recognition of the still unresolved territorial dispute as regards North Borneo despite the findings of the Cobbold Commission or the 1963 UN Mission.

A joint communique by Malaysia and the Philippines dated 3 June 1966 also provides that both parties have agreed to abide by the Manila Accord for the peaceful settlement of the Philippine claim to North Borneo (now called "Sabah") by "[recognizing] the need of sitting together, as soon as possible, for the purpose of clarifying the claim and discussing the means of settling it to the satisfaction of both parties" in consonance with said Accord and its accompanying Joint Statement.[43]

In 1968, the governments of Malaysia and the Philippines agreed to hold talks in Bangkok for the purpose of clarifying the territorial dispute and discussing the modes of settling it, as provided under the terms of the Manila Accord. As reflected in the official records of a plenary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the Malaysian delegation reportedly declared during such talks that "this exercise under the Joint Communique is over and done with" and that they "stalked out of the conference room, thus bringing the talks to an abrupt end," despite publicly announcing a few days earlier that they would discuss with their Philippine counterparts the modes of settlement for the issue.[69]

Malaysian position

To date, Malaysia maintains that the Sabah claim is a non-issue and non-negotiable, thereby rejecting any calls from the Philippines to resolve the matter in ICJ. Sabah authorities stated in 2009 that they see the claim made by the Philippines' Moro leader Nur Misuari to take Sabah to International Court of Justice (ICJ) as a non-issue and that they dismiss the claim.[70]

Related events

Emmanuel L. Osorio's proposal. Addition of a ninth ray to represent the Muslim and indigenous people and a fourth star for the Philippine-claimed parts of Sabah
Emmanuel L. Osorio's proposal. Addition of a ninth ray to represent the Muslim and indigenous people and a fourth star for the Philippine-claimed parts of Sabah

Ops Merdeka and Jabidah Massacre

Main article: Jabidah massacre

In 1967, President Ferdinand Marcos secretly authorised Major Eduardo "Abdul Latif" Martelino, a Muslim convert, to take charge of the operations of a secret commando unit code-named "Jabidah" and embark on an operation called "Project Merdeka" (merdeka means "freedom" in Malay) to destabilise and take over Sabah.[71] The alleged mastermind, however, included leading generals in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Defense Undersecretary Manuel Syquio, and Marcos himself.[72]

This plan backfired when in 1968, due to some reason, the trainees refused to continue their training and demanded to be returned home. One batch of recruits were disarmed, with some of the trainees returned home and some others transferred to a regular military camp in Luzon. But another batch of recruits were killed by army troops, with only one survivor, Jibin Arula, managing to escape.[72] This event is acknowledged as a major flashpoint that ignited the Moro insurgency in the Philippines.[73]

1985 incident

Main article: 1985 Lahad Datu ambush

In September 1985, 15-20 armed foreign pirates from the neighbouring Philippines landed in Lahad Datu, and killed at least 21 people and injured 11 others in a series of robberies and random shootings.[74][75] In addition, some $200,000 from a local bank as well as another $5,000 from the Malaysia Airlines office were stolen.[76]

Sovereignty over Ligitan and Sipadan islands case

Main article: Ligitan and Sipadan dispute

In 2002, in a case concerning sovereignty over Ligitan and Sipadan islands between Indonesia and Malaysia, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favour of Malaysia.[77] The two islands are located in the Celebes Sea off the northeast coast of Borneo. The case was decided based on Malaysia's effectivités (evidence of possession and use by a particular state that is effective to claim title) on the two islands as both Indonesia and Malaysia did not possess treaty-based titles on Ligitan and Sipadan.[78]

The Philippines applied to intervene in the case based on its territorial claim to North Borneo. Indonesia objected to the application and stated that the "Philippines raises no claim with respect to [the two islands] and maintains that the legal status of North Borneo is not a matter on which the Court has been asked to rule". Malaysia further contended that "the issue of sovereignty over Ligitan and Sipadan is completely independent of that of the status of North Borneo" and that "the territorial titles are different in the two cases".[78] The application was ultimately rejected by the ICJ because of the non-existence of an "interest of legal nature" such that the Court did not find how the decision on the case concerning the two islands would affect the Philippines' territorial claim to North Borneo.[79][80]

2013 standoff

Main article: 2013 Lahad Datu standoff

On 11 February 2013, a group of approximately 100–200 individuals, some of them armed, arrived by boat in Lahad Datu, Sabah from Simunul island, Tawi-Tawi in the southern Philippines.[81] They were sent by Jamalul Kiram III, one of the claimants to the throne of the Sultanate of Sulu. Their objective was to assert their unresolved territorial claim to North Borneo. During the ensuing standoff, 56 of his followers were killed, along with 6 civilians and 10 Malaysian soldiers.[82][83][84][85]

2020 diplomatic spat

PH06-KING8 (cropped).jpg
Teddy Locsin Jr. Twitter
@teddyboylocsin

Replying to @USEmbassyPH

Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines.

27 July 2020

Hishamuddin2014.jpg
Hishammuddin Hussein Malaysia Twitter
@HishammuddinH2O

Replying to @Teddy Locsin Jr.

This is an irresponsible statement that affects bilateral ties. @MalaysiaMFA will summon the Philippines Ambassador on Monday to explain. Sabah is, and will always be, part of Malaysia.

29 July 2020

On 27 July 2020, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. posted a tweet replying to a post from the US Embassy in Manila on the "US donation of hygiene kits to Filipinos from Sabah, Malaysia" by saying that "Sabah does not belong to Malaysia".[86] In response, the Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein rebuked the Philippine Foreign Secretary's tweet as an irresponsible statement that affects bilateral ties, and on 30 July 2020 summoned the Philippine ambassador. Locsin then summoned the Malaysian ambassador in a tit-for-tat move.[87]

Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal rejected the Philippine claim, suggesting the issues "should be resolved once and for all" with both the governments of Malaysia and the Philippines to officially have a "government-to-government talk" through the ASEAN platform.[88][89] He earlier stated that the proposal by the central government of the Philippines to include Sabah territory as part of the Philippines territory in their passports was nothing short of provocation and the federal government of Malaysia must make an immediate response.[90] Shafie added that Sabah is a "sovereign state" and this has been settled a long time ago where the residents of Sabah had been assured by the Malaysian federal government of "full security and protection" when it formed the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.[91]

In addition, former Sabah chief minister, Musa Aman, told the Philippines to back off from continuing its claim over the state and to cease any agendas relating to Sabah and its internal politics. Similarly, former Malaysia foreign minister, Anifah Aman, who is also a Sabahan, criticised Locsin for his statement.[92]

Alleged December 2021 plot

The South China Morning Post reported that an elected official of Sulu province organised a meeting on December 2021, attended by mayors of Sulu. It is alleged that there is a plan to organise a 600-personnel "Royal Sulu Army" to organised an armed takeover of the contested area in North Borneo.[93] Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dismissed the alleged plot as fake news. The Philippine military in Sulu said that the allegation is without basis but confirmed that local officials organised a meeting where they discussed bolstering maritime security in the area.[94]

Seizures of Malaysian foreign assets

Malaysia stopped the annual payment of RM 5,300 cession money to heirs to Sulu Sultanate after the 2013 Lahad Datu standoff, despite unable to prove the links of the 2013 Lahad Datu militants with descendants of Sultanate of Sulu.[95][96] Former prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak defended his government move, stated that Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, one of the claimants of the Sulu throne, launched the attack in 2013.[97] Malaysian government initiated a suit against the supposed descendents of the Sulu Sultanate in March 2017 in Kota Kinabalu High Court. In March 2020, the court ruled that Malaysia was the proper venue to resolve dispute on non-payment of cession money and the 1878 Deeds of Cession as there was no binding agreements between the Malaysian government and the heirs of Sulu Sultanate that compels either party to submit an arbitration in an event of dispute.[98]

After that, daughter of Jamalul Kiram III, Sheramar Kiram,[97] initiated proceedings of commercial arbitration in November 2017 against government of Malaysia in Madrid High Court, Spain. When the heirs of Sultanate of Sulu filed claims in February 2018, Malaysia did not send any representatives there to dispute the claim. Malaysia did not participate or intervene in any of the proceedings except between 25 October 2019 and 18 November 2019 and 5 July 2021.[95] Najib defended Malaysian government's move of not sending any representatives there because Malaysia did not recognise the Spanish court as a venue to resolve arbitration issues.[97]

In 2019, Mr Tommy Thomas, the Attorney General of Malaysia, admitted Malaysia has no legal grounds to refuse payments to heirs of Sultanate of Sulu and offered resumption of payments in exchange of discontinuation of the commercial arbitration process. Mr Thomas also agreed that the arbitration does not put Malaysian national sovereignty at stake. Preliminary award was given to heirs of Sultanate of Sulu in May 2020. Malaysia then filed a suit in Civil and Criminal Chamber of the Superior Court of Justice of Madrid; where the court later decided on 29 June 2021 to nullify the appointment of Dr. Gonzalo Stampa, the arbitrator of this case and to stop all the proceedings of this case, because the purported intentions of the heirs of Sulu Sultanate were to reclaim the state of Sabah from Malaysia, thus threatening the Malaysian sovereign integrity. The venue of arbitration was later moved to Paris because Tribunal de grande instance de Paris issued exequatur of preliminary award in September 2021.[95] Stampa disregarded the order from criminal court of Spain to cease all proceedings.[99]

In February 2022, the Paris Court ruled that Malaysia had violated a treaty signed in 1878 of annual cession payment and would have to pay at least US$14.92 billion (RM62.59 billion) to the descendants of the sultanate of Sulu.[100] In March 2022, Malaysia again filed an application to annul final award over claims by Sultan of Sulu's heirs since the appointment of arbitrator Dr Gonzalo Stampa was itself annulled by Madrid High Court in June 2021, rendering any decisions by him to be invalid including the 2022 award.[101] Lawyers for the heirs indicated that they will seek the award’s recognition and execution, citing a 1958 U.N. Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.[102][103]

In July 2022, court bailiffs in Luxembourg served Petronas Azerbaijan (Shah Denis) and Petronas South Caucus with a "saiseie-arret" or a "seize order" on behalf of descendants of the Sultan of Sulu. Petronas said it would defend its legal position, and further clarified that the entire said asset had been divested in 2021 and all the proceeds had been repatriated,[104] rendering the actions baseless.[105][106] In the same month, the Paris Court of Appeal allowed the Malaysian government's application to obtain a stay order against enforcement of the French arbitration court, since the enforcement of the award would infringe on Malaysia's sovereignty.[107] This effectively suspends the enforcement of the award in any country until a final decision by the Paris court is decided upon.[108]

See also

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Notes

  1. ^ The Confirmatory Deed of 1903 must be viewed in the light of the 1878 Agreement. The British North Borneo Company entered into a Confirmatory Deed with the Sultanate of Sulu in 1903, thereby confirming and ratifying what was done in 1878.

Bibliography

Further reading

Allen, J. de V.; Stockwell, Anthony J. (1980). Wright., Leigh R. (ed.). A collection of treaties and other documents affecting the states of Malaysia 1761–1963. Oceana Pubns. ISBN 978-0-379-00781-7.