International Court of Justice Could Settle Sulu Question

If the government in the Malaysian administrative capital of Putrajaya were to be truly honest with itself, it will confront the fact that there's very little sympathy in Sabah and Sarawak on the ground for the security forces apparently battling it out with the forces of the Sultan of Sulu in the coastal town of Lahad Datu. It's 50 years too late. They might as well pack up and go home and instead recall the Sabah Border Scouts and Sarawak Rangers.

At the same time, the continuing statements from Jamalul Kiram III, the Manila press, the Philippines Government and Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Sabah and Sarawak are being viewed in the right perspective.

Local political parties in Sabah and Sarawak are convinced, like the descendants of the heirs of the defunct Sulu Sultanate and Nur Misuari that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague is the best venue to settle rival claims to the two Borneo nations. Already, the State Reform Party (Star) led by Jeffrey Kitingan, has reportedly included the international court option in their draft Manifesto for the forthcoming 13th General Election.

The general consensus across both sides of the Sulu Sea is that national ownership of Sabah and Sarawak will not go away unless there's a final resolution one way or another. In the absence of a final resolution, the security of both states will continue to be compromised and thereby affect investor and consumer confidence.

The descendants of the nine heirs of the defunct Sulu Sultanate claim that they have private property rights to Sabah or parts of it. They further claim and/or used to claim that sovereignty over Sabah rests with the Philippine Government. This is a grey area since one Sulu Sultan apparently “transferred” his sultanate's sovereignty over Sabah to the Philippine government in Manila by way of a power of attorney which has reportedly since expired.

Which Sultan?

At last count there were some 60 claimants to the Sulu Sultanship, not all being descendants of the nine heirs of the defunct Sulu Sultanate.

The nine Plaintiffs, Dayang Dayang Piandao Kiram, Princess Tarhata Kiram, Princess Sakinur Kiram, Sultan Ismael Kiram, Sultan Punjungan Kiram, Sitti Rada Kiram, Sitti Jahara Kiram, Sitti Mariam Kiram and Mora Napsa were recognized by C. F. Mackasie, Chief Judge of Borneo, on 13 Dec, 1939 in response to Civil Suit No. 169/39.

The Judge ruled that the nine heirs, as the beneficiaries under the will of the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram, who died at Jolo on 7 June 1935, are entitled to collect an annual total of RM5,300 from Sabah in perpetuity for having foregone the right to collect tolls along the waterways in eastern Sabah. The reference point was the deed of cession made between the Sultan of Sulu and the predecessors of the British North Borneo Chartered Company on Jan 22, 1878, and under a confirmatory deed dated April 22, 1903.

If the descendants of the nine heirs end up at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, there are no prizes for guessing which way the case will go.

The Sulu Sultans of old were extorting tolls, virtually a criminal activity, from the terrified traffic along the eastern seaboard of Sabah. The Brunei Sultanate meanwhile denies ever handing any part of Sabah, or the right to collect tolls along the waterways, to Sulu.

The British North Borneo Chartered Company had no right whatsoever to enter into negotiations on behalf of the people of Sabah with anyone. The entire land area of Sabah, by history, Adat and under Native Customary Rights (NCR), belonged to the Orang Asal (Original People) of the Territory.

The sovereignty of Sabah rests with the people of Sabah. This sovereignty was re-affirmed on 31 Aug, 1963 when the state won independence from Britain, which had occupied the state after World War II. Therein the matter lies. The sovereignty of Sabah was never been transferred to Brunei, Sulu, the Philippines, Britain or Malaya, masquerading as Malaysia since 16 Sept, 1963.

Likewise, Sarawak's independence was re-affirmed on 22 July, 1963 when the British left. Sarawak had been an independent country for over 150 years under its own Rajah until World War II intervened and the Japanese occupied the country. The war over, the British coerced the Rajah to hand over his country to the Colonial Office in London because they had plans to form the Federation of Malaysia with Sarawak as one of the constituent elements. The British occupation of Sarawak was illegal and an act of piracy.

Nur Misuari claims that Sarawak had belonged to his family, from the time of his great great grandfather. He claims that he has the services of the best lawyers at his disposal to make his case at The Hague.

The outcome of any hearing at The Hague will be a forgone conclusion: the Sulu and Nur Misuari petitions will be struck out without even a hearing; the court will rule that the people of Sabah and Sarawak never agreed to be in Malaysia. The people of Sabah and Sarawak must be given the right to intervene in the Applications at the international court which will determine their fate. There's nothing to prevent the people of Sulu and the southern Philippines from throwing in an Application that the Philippine government has no business to occupy their traditional Muslim homeland.

Brunei stayed out of Malaysia at the 11th hour after an armed rebellion in the Sultanate against the idea of Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei being in Malaysia. No Referendum was held in Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Malaya on Malaysia. The Kelantan Government even took the matter to court.

A sampling of community leaders conducted by the Cobbold Commission, a commission of inquiry established in 1961to determine whether the people of Sabah and Sarawak supported the proposal to create Malaysia, found that only the Suluk and Bajau community leaders, perhaps sensing some personal benefits for themselves as proxies of Muslim-controlled Kuala Lumpur, agreed with the idea of Malaysia.

Orang Asal community leaders wanted a period of independence before looking at the idea of Malaysia again. They asked for further and better particulars on Malaysia to be used as the reference point for a future re-visitation of the Malaysia Concept. They were not provided these further and better particulars.

The Chinese community leaders, keeping the eventual fate of the resources and revenues of the country uppermost in mind, totally rejected the idea of Malaysia. They were not wrong. Putrajaya today carts away all the resources and revenues of Sabah and Sarawak to Malaya and very little of it comes back to the two Borneo.

The Cobbold Commission disingenuously declared that two thirds of the people in Sabah i.e. Suluk/Bajau + Orang Asal supported Malaysia. The Commission made the same declaration in Sarawak where only the Sarawak Malay community leaders supported the idea of Malaysia for self-serving reasons.

Security became an afterthought. But as the continuing influx of illegal immigrants into Sabah and Sarawak, and the Lahad Datu intrusion, has proven, there has been no security for both Borneo nations in Malaysia. ESSCOM (Eastern Sabah Security Command) and ESSZONE (Eastern Sabah Safety Zone) comes too little too late, after 50 years.

In the unlikely event that the ICJ rules in favour of the heirs of the defunct Sulu Sultanate and Nur Misuari, it would be the sacred duty of Sabahans and Sarawakians to launch a revolution and decapitate all the claimants to their countries from the Philippines.

This would bury the issue once and for all and shut up the Manila press and the Philippine Government.

(Joe Fernandez is a semi-retired journalist living in East Malaysia.)