A Malaysian policeman maintains a checkpoint on a road leading to an area in Sabah, where hundreds of followers of the Sulu sultan are holed up. In October last year, President Aquino described the territorial dispute with Malaysia over Sabah as “dormant at this point in time.”
In October last year, President Aquino described the territorial dispute with Malaysia over Sabah as “dormant at this point in time.”
While the Philippines’ pending claim to Sabah is dormant, the country has never relinquished its claim to Sabah and Kuala Lumpur continues to pay a yearly rent to the heirs of the sultan of Sulu.
The Philippines’ claim to Sabah (formerly North Borneo) is based on the historic ownership of the territory by the hereditary sultans of Sulu.
North Borneo, which used to be under the sultan of Brunei, was ceded to the sultan of Sulu in 1704 after the sultan of Sulu helped quell a rebellion instigated against the sultan of Brunei, according to descendants of Sultan Jamalul Ahlam of the kingdom of Sulu.
Sabah was leased to the British colonizers of what is now Malaysia in the late 19th century. In 1878, Ahlam leased Sabah to the British North Borneo Co. for 5,300 Mexican gold pieces a year. The company religiously remitted payments until 1936, when Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, the 32nd sultan of Sulu, died.
The British consul in Manila recommended the suspension of payments because President Manuel L. Quezon did not recognize Kiram II’s successor. In 1950, Sultan Punjungan Kiram, crown prince of the sultanate at the time of Kiram II’s death, went to the British consulate in Manila to demand the resumption of payments.
Kiram II’s heirs also filed a case in the Sessions Court of North Borneo, which directed the British company to resume payments. The company complied for several years, but it stopped paying when its rights to Sabah were transferred to the newly established Federation of Malaysia in 1963. The new government assumed the payment but in ringgit.
Every year, the Malaysian Embassy in the Philippines issues a check in the amount of 5,300 ringgit (about P77,000) to the legal counsel of Ahlam’s descendants. Malaysia considers the amount an annual “cession” payment for the disputed state, while the sultan’s descendants consider it “rent.”—Kate Pedroso, Inquirer Research