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Sabah claim far from being resolved

By Noralyn Mustafa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:38:00 07/27/2008

Filed Under: Foreign affairs & international relations

THE SO-CALLED ?cession monies? being paid yearly by the Malaysian government to the heirs of the last Sultan of Sulu may qualify for Ripley?s ?Believe It or Not.?

Ulka Ulama, the heirs? legal counsel for the past 40 years, said the yearly rental for Sabah that was fixed in the original lease contract 130 years ago at 5,000 Mexican dollars had remained the same, except that the currency had changed to the Malaysian ringgit (RM).

The amount?RM5,000 or P70,000?has not only defied inflation for over a century but is also probably the cheapest rent ever in the world.

Ulama, who collects the rental payments on the heirs? behalf, said it was his personal view that the Malaysian government should consider the long-overdue increment in the rental rate.

The heirs have long been seeking an increase in the annual rental from the Malaysian government. Even the Philippine government has ignored their request for help in resolving the matter.


Ulama came to know the royal heirs in 1959, when he interviewed them for his thesis, ?The North Borneo Claim,? for his law degree from the Manuel L. Quezon University.

On behalf of the heirs, Ulama wrote President Macapagal-Arroyo in 2003 through then Foreign Secretary Blas Ople, seeking assistance in requesting the Malaysian government to increase the rental ?consistent with the gigantic improvements of its 29,388-square-mile land area and its enormous increase in income??

(According to a brief on Sabah posted on its website, the gross national product of this resource-rich state grew from RM400 million in 1963 to RM12.1 billion in 1993.)

Ulama?s first letter merited a reply seven months later, from Ambassador Leonides Caday of the Department of Foreign Affairs? Office of the Undersecretary for Special Concerns.

Caday gave the assurance that the matter would be discussed ?as soon as Belacs (Bipartisan Executive-Legislative Advisory Council on the Sabah issue) convenes.?

But nothing more was heard from the DFA, prompting Ulama to write Ms Arroyo again on May 5, 2008, requesting her to formally endorse to the Malaysian government the heirs? proprietary rights claim.

On May 29, Ulama received a phone call from Caday, who asked him to submit documents to support his request. He also received a reply on June 23, this time from Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis.

Ultimate solution

Ulama said the late Princess Dinchurain Kiram, daughter of Princess Tarhata, had made a similar appeal in letters to the Malaysian government, to no avail.

In a letter she wrote in 1999 to then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad through then President Joseph Estrada, she said ?([t]he complete settlement of the proprietary rights of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu by the Malaysian government is the only real and meaningful ultimate solution to the peace and order problems of the Southern Philippines, which will eventually bring peace, progress and happiness to the people in the area.?

She also said ?the money value and improvements of Sabah [since] 118 years ago ? to the present has gone over a thousandfold.?

Claim revival

?Fair human dealings, justice and fairness demand that the annual customary payment ? must be increased retroactive to the year 1962, at the time the British government left the administration of Sabah in favor of Malaysia,? she said.

Moro National Liberation Front chair Nur Misuari called for a revival of the Sabah claim during a gathering of the MNLF in Davao City on May 24.

Present at the gathering was Sultan Muhammad Fuad Abdullah Kiram, the fourth son of Sultan Esmail Kiram, who was one of the nine heirs recognized in the Makaskie Decision of the High Court of North Borneo affirming their proprietary rights over Sabah.

Sultan Fuad, who claims he was proclaimed Sultan of Sabah in 2004 and Sultan of Sulu in 2006, is backed by the MNLF.

After their father?s death in 1973, Fuad?s elder brother Mahakuttah was proclaimed sultan with the full support of President Ferdinand Marcos.

Mahakuttah died in 1986, the same year Marcos was ousted.

Ulama dismissed as ?lies? a recent report in a Malaysian newspaper saying that the nine heirs of the Sulu Sultanate were dropping their claim to Sabah.

According to Ulama, no one has the power and authority to drop the claim because there is no sultan reigning over the territory and ruling with a government.

Last sultan

The last Sultan of Sulu was Jamalul Kiram II?the second son of Jamalul Ahlam Kiram who leased Sabah to Gustav von Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent of East India Co. He reigned from 1893 up to his death on June 7, 1936.

Ulama said a careful reading of the judgment of Chief Justice CFC Makaskie of the High Court of North Borneo would show that nobody could claim or relinquish the sovereign or proprietary claims to Sabah except the nine heirs of Jamalul Kiram II.

Now that all the original heirs recognized in the Makaskie Decision are dead, it is up to the legal administrators of the nine heirs named in the decision to act in the best interest of the people of Sabah, Ulama said.

?Give to the heirs and the people of Sulu what is fair and just, even if sovereignty should remain with Malaysia,? he said.

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