By Raïssa Robles
I’ve always suspected the Chinese read my blog – given what I’ve written about the West Philippine Sea. Yesterday I found out Malaysia was reading it as well.
Channel News Asia and Malaysian online newspaper newstraitstimes.com separately reported that on May 19 Malaysia’s foreign ministry summoned the Philippine Charge d’Affaires Medardo Macaraig to give him an earful over what President Benigno Aquino told me when I asked if he was dropping the Philippine claim to Sabah.
Aquino had replied he was not dropping the claim and I had reported his explanation word for word. You can read it in my blog post entitled “I will not drop Sabah claim, President Aquino told me.”
Malaysia huffily told Macaraig “its position that Malaysia does not recognise and will not entertain any claims by any party on Sabah”, Channel News Asia reported.
I was curious what the actual Malaysian foreign ministry statement contained. A source kindly sent me the English and Malay versions below:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
YB MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS MALAYSIA
ON THE PHILIPPINES’ CLAIM ON SABAH
On 19 May 2015, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia summoned Mr. Medardo G. Macaraig, the Philippine Charge d’Affaires over the remarks made by His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III, President of the Republic of the Philippines, on the Philippines’ claim on Sabah in an interview by Miss Raissa Robles on 15 May 2015.
The Government of Malaysia reiterates its position that Malaysia does not recognise and will not entertain any claims by any party on Sabah. Sabah is recognised by the United Nations (UN) and international community as part of Malaysia since 16 September 1963.
The Malay version
Kementerian Luar Negeri, Malaysia
UNTUK SIARAN SERTA-MERTA
YB MENTERI LUAR NEGERI MALAYSIA MENGENAI TUNTUTAN FILIPINA KE ATAS SABAH
Pada 19 Mei 2015, Kementerian Luar Negeri Malaysia telah memanggil Tuan Medardo G. Macaraig, Charge d’ Affaires Kedutaan Besar Republik Filipina berkaitan dengan kenyataan yang telah dikeluarkan oleh Tuan Yang Terutama Benigno S. Aquino III, Presiden Republik Filipina, mengenai tuntutan Filipina ke atas Sabah dalam satu sesi temubual yang telah diadakan oleh Wartawan Raissa Robles pada 15 Mei 2015.
Kerajaan Malaysia menegaskan pendiriannya bahawa Malaysia tidak mengiktiraf dan tidak akan melayan sebarang tuntutan oleh mana-mana pihak ke atas Sabah. Sabah telah diiktiraf oleh Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu (PBB) dan masyarakat antarabangsa sebagai sebahagian dari Malaysia sejak 16 September 1963.
20 MEI 2015
As I told President Aquino during my interview with him, this is not the time to take up the Sabah issue.
However, I would just like to share with my readers and commenters the raw copy of an article I had submitted to South China Morning Post on the issue of Sabah on August 31, 2002, in the hope that this will contribute to the understanding of the issue. I don’t have a copy of the published and edited version.
This piece is highly interesting because it has the Malaysian ambassador to Manila then admitting that the Malaysian government pays the Sultanate of Sulu a yearly rent of 5,000 ringgit.
I also recall – although I did not write this into the story – that Ambassador Taufik told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines then that he had just personally delivered a check to the Sultanate’s family.
Here is my draft version of the story:
Sabah: the problem refuses to die
RAISSA ROBLES in Manila
It’s not that natives of Bongao feel their island is part of Malaysia. It’s because they, as well as thousands of Muslim residents in the adjoining islands, feel Sabah is really part of Muslim Mindanao.
“They go there to shop the way people in Manila go to the malls,” noted Congressman Jose Lozada, House foreign relations committee chairman.
Sabah is five hours away by speedboat from Bongao and 12 hours on a slow ferry.
Early this year, Malaysia’s finance ministry had paid the Royal Sultanate of Sulu in southern Philippines its yearly “rent” of 5,000 ringgit for Sabah, Malaysian ambassador to Manila Mohamed Taufik confirmed to South China Morning Post.
Later, Ambassador Taufik took great pains to stress that this was not rent but a “cession fee”.
And there lies the nagging problem over Sabah.
Sabah’s official website acknowledges that the territory was originally a thank you gift by Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei in 1658 to the Sultan of Sulu for helping put down an internal revolt.
Then the website claims that in 1877, the Sultan of Sulu concluded a “treaty…ceding large portions of territory” to Baron Von Overbeck, the Austrian consul in Hong Kong, and his British financial backers, Alfred and Edward Dent.
The Sultanate’s version is quite different and is borne out by the original document. It uses the word “padjak”, which Spanish, Dutch and American linguists have defined as an “arrendiamento” or a “lease”.
Although the Baron was granted “absolute authority” over residents of the “land beneath the wind” – since Sabah was shielded from storms – the agreement forbade the Baron from transferred his rights to another company or to a sovereign state without the Sultan’s permission.
When the United States “bought” the Philippines from Spain for US$20 million under the Treaty of Paris in 1898, Sabah was not part of the deal.
However, the US officially reminded Great Britain in 1906 and again in 1920 that Sabah did not belong to the Crown but to the Sultanate of Sulu.
When the US granted the Philippines independence in 1946, the country’s constitution asserted its claim for “all other areas which belong to the Philippines on the basis of historical rights or legal claims.”
Malaya became independent from British rule in 1957
but it was only in May 1961 that Malaya’s Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, agreed to accept Singapore, another British-administered colony, into the federation on condition that other British colonies, including Sabah which was then known as North Borneo, be integrated too.
The Sultanate of Sulu formally asked the Philippine government to act on its behalf. President Diosdado Macapagal, father of incumbent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, vehemently opposed the annexation and sent a delegation to London to formalize the claim.
Both sides agreed to allow the United Nations to conduct a referendum to determine the will of Sabah residents.
To this day, Philippine officials claim that referendum was rigged with the help of British authorities to favor Malaysia.
When Mrs Arroyo visited Malaysia this May, she did not take up the Sabah issue.
However, Mr Mahathir opened up the subject and suggested that Manila open a consulate in Sabah to take care of an estimated half a million Filipinos staying there with and without papers. In doing so, Manila would have effectively dropped its claim, Philippine ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, Jose Brillantes said.
Another ranking Philippine official disclosed: “She (Mrs Arroyo) proposed that this be taken up in another setting, which if you ask me, that showed our lack of preparation on the issue itself.”