Sabah Claim


Anthropology Division

Seminar Report on Philippines’ Right to Sabah Claim


In the midst of the current issue on the administration’s neglect on pursuing Philippine’s claim to Sabah, a public forum on Understanding the Moro People and Philippines Claim on Sabah was conducted at the University of the Philippines Diliman last 12th of March, this year. Mr. Abraham Idjirani, the Secretary General and National Spokesperson of The Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo talked about the historical, legitimate and just claim of the Sultanate of Sulu over Sabah. This was followed by the former Career Minister and General Consul from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Hermes Dorado, who discussed about the Philippines and Malaysia Governments position and course of actions on the above issue. The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) also participated in the conference wherein their chairperson, Dr. Carol Araullo shared their analysis and stance over the said matter, in behalf of the rest of the progressive people’s movement. The conference was culminated by the presence and personal statement shared by the daughter of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III herself, Princess Jacel Kiram.


It all started in 1704 when the Sultan of Brunei bestowed the Sulu Sultanate the ownership and authority to rule over North Borneo in return for helping the former quelling his enemies. In 1878, the Sulu Sultanate had an agreement with the British North Borneo Company to lease the North Borneo giving them the freedom to exploit and develop its natural resources, for a payment of 5000 Malayan dollars per year – which was increased to 5300 dollars in 1903. It was in 1878 that the British crown misinterpreted the Samal term “padyak” into “cession” or having ultimate dominion and sovereignty over the disputed land, instead of “lease”. Come the days when the colonizers dominated and ruled the Philippines, North Borneo remained a rightful territory of the Sulu Sultanate. In 1906 and in 1920, the United States notified the Great Britain of this right, however Britain proceeded to annex North Borneo as a colony in 1946. In the 1935 Philippine Constitution, it is clearly stated that the premise of Philippine territory roots from its historical rights and legal claims. In 1962, the Sulu Sultanate gave in under the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines. After then, the Macapagal administration authorized the Philippine government to file the Sabah claim case to the United Nations. After Marcos Regime, the issue remained dormant. Ramos and Estrada never tried enough to accomplish things in the success of the pursuit. And now, with the Aquino administration, apparently they did not just show disinterest or neglect – they have even threatened those who fight for this right. We might want to have a deeper understanding on why previous leaders of the country suddenly became apathetic of such a crucial matter. Mr. Hermes Dorado took the floor and helped the audience be enlightened over the said issue.


The Malacanan’s indifference towards Philippines’ claim on Sabah rooted from the days of Aquinos’ struggle against the Marcos regime. Mr. Dorado laid down the truth – that on the day Ninoy Aquino bravely faced his death on August 21, 1983, earlier that day, he went to Malaysia to meet the Prime Minister then, Mohammed Mahathir to ask for help in confronting and ending the dictatorship in Manila. This, in exchange for dropping the Sabah claim when the Aquinos gain power. The above information was indirectly confirmed by General Ileto (the Philippine Ambassador in Bangkok who was assigned to accompany Ninoy) to Mr. Dorado. As continued, Mahathir refused to attend the ASEAN SUMMIT in Manila until President Cory Aquino committed to amend Article I of the 1973 Philippine Constitution. This eradicated the part which states that all other areas belonging to the Philippines by historic right or title are of the country’s territory.


Apart from the crucial information shared above, others would say that the neglect to validity of Philippine sovereignty to Sabah is caused by the country’s longtime subservience to US imperialism as to what happened in Macapagal US dictated then the Macapagal administration to put Indonesia’s Sukarno aside through tripartite Maphilindo scheme, to give way to the formation of Malaysia without demanding to not incorporate Sabah in the federation.


The attitude displayed by the Aquino encouraging the Malaysian authorities to resort on exploitive and despotic measures to get away with the Filipinos fighting for Sabah, is viewed as treachery to its countrymen. Nevertheless, history, as far as wrong decisions made or selfish acts pursued by previous leaders of the country are concerned,  could only help so much in determining the reasons behind events occurring at present – however it does not give the solution. Communication and constant dialogue between both concerned parties are most vital and will never be too late to take resort into. Peaceful and professional talks over the matter might just save a verdict which carries the best interest of everyone’s welfare. Apparently, Philippines and Malaysia are part of a bigger union and alliance of ASEAN countries – a relation and network which is imperative to continue to nurture, for our own good and protection. On the other hand, standing for what is fair and righteous is a safe and strong ground to pursue and fight for something. Let us weigh things and see which will truly help develop the well-being and secure the future of the Filipinos. 


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