Sabah, Mamasapano and sober second thoughts

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THE Sabah claim is back in the news even if Mamasapano seems to suck nearly all the oxygen from every other issue.

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In 1868, the Sultan of Sulu had a contract over Sabah with Austrian Gustavus Baron de Overbeck, a shadowy figure emerging bigger than life in the thick mists of Sabah’s annals. If it was a “lease” for 99 years, as has been advanced, it would have expired January 22, 1977. In 1967, Marcos said that Sabah is ours “on legal, historical and moral grounds,” and vowed “to pursue it as a matter of principle and as a matter of justice.” His then ardent irredentism later cooled.

1. In 1704, the Sultan of Brunei ceded Sabah to the Sultan of Sulu in gratitude for the latter’s help in suppressing an uprising.

2. On January 22, 1878, the Sultan of Sulu entered into a contract of lease (our view) or sale or cession (Malaysian view) of Sabah with Overbeck. Alfred Dent, a British subject and his business associate, shortly thereafter bought him out. The British North Borneo Co. eventually secured Dent’s rights in the 1878 deal. The Company obtained a Royal Charter on November 1, 1881 and was to administer Sabah up to 1946, when the territory became a Crown Colony.

3. The Sultanate of Sulu, until 1963, had been accepting the yearly payments stipulated in the 1878 contract. Malaysia appears to recognize this obligation to this day.

4. The Sultanate of Sulu transferred its rights over Sabah to our Government in 1962, which then stepped up its efforts to recover it. On June 22, 1962, we formally filed our claim with the British.

5. In 1963, “conversations” were held by the Philippines and Britain without any settlement being effected. That same year Malaysia was formed with Sabah a part of the new federation.

6. Attempts since then to settle the question have proven fruitless. In June and July, 1968, negotiators met in Bangkok to clarify our claim and discuss possible modes of settling it. The talks failed.

7. The problem hibernated for a decade. (Per a press report, former DFA Secretary Pelaez said we also pressed the claim in 1973).

8. Then, in July, 1977, in breath-taking succession, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Harris Salleh asserted that he believed we would give up our claim. Shortly thereafter the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu were reported to “have given Marcos full authority and confidence in settling their claim in North Borneo” and at the same time announced having given him a special power of attorney covering their proprietary rights.

He then convened the nation’s leaders to thresh out the claim.

We have stated in a nutshell what may be considered the non-controversial — or least controversial — antecedents of the dispute. There is so much to say on the legal aspect of the problem but space does not allow us. Malaysia, in opposing the World Court proposal argues that the controversy is not a “purely legal claim,” as it is bound up inextricably with the legal aspects are, inter alia, its political, social, economic, historical, cultural and emotional implications, not judicially manageable. Malaysia suggests that apart from the legal dimension, it carries with it a pervasive, predominant and polycentric network of clashing non-legal interests that would be beyond the reasonable competence of a judicial body to adjust and resolve satisfactorily.

Restraint is urged in advocating a judicial solution when “what is in question is not only the possession of an area of territory by the exercise of powers of government over a people; whether one legal order be substituted for another, and whether the entire way of life of a people shall be changed. It is not difficult to imagine situations in which the position of a referee, faced with the task of deciding, on the basis of legal title, the destiny of a vigorous people with a will of its own, might become untenable.”

Hmmm. “[A] political situation is not susceptible to simplification by reduction to legislative terms. For it generally involves many other factors besides mere issues of law such as for instance, collective forces, feelings and emotions, movements of public opinion, national honor and so on. And for this reasons it is not as a rule an accident that international differences of views arising from the reflection of a clash of national interests or policies. Now, to reconcile different national interests by a balancing of advantages against disadvantages, or if necessary, to choose between competing interests, is traditionally held to be not a judicial but a political function, a job for statesmen rather than judges.”

What do the Sabahans want? Independence, Manila or, the status quo? Self-determination is a human right. Kicked around for centuries by Chinese overlords, fellow Malays, Dutch and British imperialists and, from our point of view, the Malaysians — can they expect something better from us? Pope Benedict XV urged at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, that the solution of territorial questions should consider, “as far as is just and possible . . . the aspiration of the population.”

Do the Sabahans aspire to be governed, in 2016, by Prez Jojobama? BTW, VP-wannabe Sonny Trillanes charges bribery in Mayor Junjun Binay’s injunction. Did Joker Arroyo and I have to bribe Sonny and Koko Pimentel to order the release of Hizzoner recently? Joker, balato naman.

Meantime, the FBI, which has the facility we don’t have to DNA Marwan as a brother of his is in custody in the U.S., confirmed, in effect, that the terrorist is now with 71 virgins in paradise. He has been linked to “the October 12 [2002] bombing in a nightclub in Bali that killed 202, . . .” mentioned by Bob Woodward in Plan of Attack (2004). Does anyone outside the Philippines mention Mamasapano at all? Well-wired Pope Francis condoled with Kenyan civvie deaths but is silent about the Mamasapano 44 troopers.  The Iraq attack started with the Coalition of the Willing (COW) losing a dozen (four Kanos, eight Brits) in a chopper accident.

Misfortunes of war.

War is terrible, and rightly so, Confederate General Robert Lee said, or else “we should grow too fond of it.”

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1 Comment

  1. Claro Apolinar on

    Sorry, Atty. Saguisag. You have been reading the history of Sabah wrong. It was nenver made a British Crown Colony, the PM then opposed the move and spoke words that can even boost Philippine/Sultan of Sulu ownership of North Borneo.