Nation


Gov’t to assess Sabah claim




Posted on February 22, 2013


THE GOVERNMENT will assess the validity of the Sulu sultanate’s claim over Sabah in a bid to peacefully resolve the standoff that has threatened to ruffle relations with Malaysia.

Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima said in a text message yesterday that she is personally "doing" the study and that she "will try to finish [the report] in a few days."

The Department of Foreign Affairs and the legal team of the Office of the President have also been tapped to conduct their own assessments, she added.

Asked on what aspect she is working on, Ms. de Lima said: "The validity or legal basis of the claim as well as an assessment of its strength or weakness, as the case may be."

"As far as feasible, my study will entail a review of available materials/literature, including previous studies," she added.

In Iloilo City, President Benigno S. C. Aquino III yesterday said all parties concerned are being consulted, including the Sultanate of Sulu, as he cited uncertainties in documents used to claim Sabah that date back to the 1700s.

"I have tasked the expert to study all of this and to find out precisely all of our standings. Where do we stand? And from where we stand where do we move forward?" he said on the sidelines of the Jalaur River Multi-purpose Project II ceremonial groundbreaking.

"Mahirap ’yung nagmamarunong at kino-compile natin lahat ng datos na meron tayo [It is difficult to pretend to know everything and we are still compiling all the data that we have]," he added.

Malaysian and Philippine authorities have confirmed that at least 100 armed supporters of the Sultanate of Sulu are holed up in coastal town of Lahad Datu to assert their rights over Sabah south of Borneo.

Reports quoted Sultan Jamalul Kiram III as ordering his followers to reclaim the island based on historical evidence.

According to reports, the British government had paid rental to the sultanate but it was not clear if this was for the lease or transfer of ownership. The island formed part of the newly created Federation of Malaysia whose independence from the British colony was declared in 1957. Kuala Lumpur continues to pay an annual rent to the Sultan of Sulu to this day.

Mr. Aquino, however, wanted to verify the claims to avoid straining relations with Malaysia, which he described as "very friendly."

"Here is a school of thought that says the translations are not faithful translations. There were clarifications that even muddled the agreements. So, when you ask definitively what is our basis for our claim… the existing documents are a bit confusing," he said.

"And Malaysia has been very, very friendly to us. And they have been very, very supportive to us."

Since 2001, Malaysia has been brokering the southern peace talks. The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have earlier signed a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro that will create a new and larger semi-independent region in Mindanao.

Resorting to arms, however, will not resolve the issue, Mr. Aquino said.

"’Pag tinapatan mo ng armas syempre ’yung kabilang panig iisa lang ang magiging pwedeng tugon sa mga hamon na ’yun. So hindi ’yun ang solusyon [When you assert your claim with arms, the other side will only have one response to the challenge. And that is not the answer]," he said.

ROYALTY MEETING
For its part, the government peace panel yesterday said a consultation was made on the issue with the descendants of royal families in Mindanao.

The statement quoted government peace panel chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer as saying that the meeting in Cotabato City last Feb. 9 encouraged "traditional leaders of royal houses in the South to come up with a paper on how they envision their roles and further contribute to building peace in the future Bangsamoro region."

"Let us make the engagement more positive and constructive," Ms. Ferrer told leaders of the Maharadjah Tabunaway Descendants Council of the Philippines, which organized a peace forum on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace plan with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said the forum was attended by more than 200 participants that brought together six royal houses and their representatives. But the list did not include the Sultanate of Sulu.

Royal houses that sent leaders to the forum were Rajah Buayan (Maguindanao); Maguindanao; Dungun (Tawi-Tawi); Sibugay (Zamboanga del Sur); Kapatagan Valley (Lanao del Norte); and Kabuntalan (Maguindanao).

In the same statement, Hadja Bai Putri Marieta Nor-Aisha P. Mindalano, who heads the council, said there is a need for the sultans’ descendant to have one stand.

"Customary law has been part of our Bangsamoro system of life that provided for maintenance of peace and welfare in our communities. It can define how traditional cultural heritage is shared, developed, and appropriately sustained within a community. It can also define rights and responsibilities of every community members on important aspects of their life and culture," she was quoted as saying.

The council is composed of members who belong to the same clan who traced their descent from Radjah Tabunaway and his brother Radjah Mamalu who led the Rajadom or royal leaders in Maguindanao during the pre-colonial period.

The organization said Shariff Mohammad Kabunsuan, who was the first Islamic missionary who came to the Philippines in the 16th century, was welcomed by Radjah Tabunaway who was the ruler of Maguindanao. With consent, the people converted to Islam and began adopting the sultanate system of leadership. In the process, Rajah Tabunaway conferred Shariff Kabunsuan the honorary title of sultan. -- Richard Jacob N. Dy, Noemi M. Gonzales and Darwin T. Wee