People surprised at the keen interest of the Malaysian government in the passage of the Bangsamoro deal must go back to history.
It all started when a blood relative, the Sultan of Brunei, ever grateful to his cousin the Sultan of Sulu for helping him quash a rebellion in his Kingdom, bequeathed to the latter a vast expanse of land now known as Sabah – peopled mostly by Tausug immigrants from the Sulu archipelago. At that time the Sulu Sultan, only surrounded by warriors, did not have a clue about what to do with his sprawling empire that comprised of the Sulu archipelago and this huge property in Borneo. Sensing this, Alfred Dent of the East Asian Company – commercial agents of the British Empire “where the sun never sets” as they say, immediately saw a huge window of opportunity. Through Baron Von Overbeck, a long time resident of Sabah, Dent cajoled the commercially-naive sultan to lease the vast property for the paltry sum of a few thousand pounds which was religiously paid by the British up to this time (through Malaysia after the annexation). From that time on the commercial interests of Great Britain poured in capital to develop the rich petroleum deposits and the fertile lands for plantation crops.
Obviously the British overlords of the Malaysians could not easily let their hugely profitable commercial interests go that easily. It is not surprising therefore that in 1946 the British violated their government’s centuries-long policy of treating their relationship with Sabah as a commercial lease and suddenly declared the territory to be something short of a Crown Colony.
And the British, despite the agreement among the Malayan (not Malaysian for there was no Malaysia yet) Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, President Sukarno of Indonesia and President Diosdado Macapagal that the question of the ownership of Sabah would be put on hold during the Manila accord of 1963, still made Sabah part of the Malaysian Federation.
Here are the exact words about North Borneo/Sabah in the Manila Accord of 1963:
“The Philippines made it clear that its position on the inclusion of North Borneo in the Federation of Malaysia is subject to the final outcome of the Philippine claim to North Borneo. The Ministers took note of the Philippine claim and the right of the Philippines to continue to pursue it in accordance with international law and the principle of the Pacific Settlement of Disputes. They agreed that the inclusion of North Borneo in the Federation of Malaysia would not prejudice either the claim or any right thereunder. Moreover, in the context of their close association, the three countries agreed to exert their best endeavours to bring the claim to a just and expeditious solution by peaceful means such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration or judicial settlement as well as other peaceful means of the parties’ own choice, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations and the Bandung Declaration.”
The British on their own initiative and with the consent of the Malaysians annexed this vast land and made it part of the Malaysian Federation. Possession is 90% of the law as the saying goes. To fortify their claim to the property the Malaysians used the Crimean formula (that we witnessed of late as applied by the Russians). The result was not surprising as the majority of the Tausug Sabahans opted to stay with Malaysia. Can we blame them given that their quality of life was superior to that of their poor cousins in the Sulu archipelago? However the majority of the Kadazans, mainly Christian Sabahans, and a lot of Dayaks did not vote to stay with Malaysia. And the referendum results were suspect because Philippine government and other observers were not allowed to monitor it.
Ever since Sabah’s’ illegitimate annexation, our Asean neighbor has been keenly interested in Bangsamoro affairs. In the face of secessionist tendencies in the region fuelled by the perception that they are getting a raw deal from the central government which pockets most of the wealth of the Sabahans and the unrelenting claim of the Sultanate of Sulu of their perceived homeland, Malaysia is making sure that the Sabah claim of the Sultanate of Sulu will be consigned to the dustbin of history.
(To be continued on Saturday April 12 and concluded on Sayurday April 19)