A Sulu Sultan’s solution to migrant woes

(FMT) – 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…”

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