Another researched and exclusive article by the people of the



A majority of Filipinos everywhere are wondering what is this Sabah claim 
is all about. The Philippine history books, Malaysian's probably too, 
have not mentioned about the Philippines' stake on the northern part 
of the island of Borneo. On the other hand, the Malaysians maybe 
furious that there are a lot of attention now being focused to that 
part of the Malaysian federation to which they believe was theirs 
since the British handed the territory in 1963.

What we are trying here is to bring an insight to this dispute based on 
our researched of the various facts (or allegations) regarding this subject. 
As Filipino Americans, our main concern in bringing about this article is to 
tell that part of the history of the Philippines. 


Sabah,is the northern part of Borneo. It is bordered by Sarawak on its 
southwestern side, and Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) to the south. 
Sabah has a coastline of approximately 800 to 900 miles and with the 
South China Sea in the west and north, the Sulu Sea in the northeast 
and the Celebes Sea in the east. Sabah's total land area is 76,115 sq km 
(29,388 sq miles). Sabah's population is about 2.5 million. It is 1,961 km 
from Hong Kong, 1,143 km from Manila, 1,495 km from Singapore, 1,678 km 
from Kuala Lumpur and 2,291 km from Taipei - note that it is nearer to 
Manila than Malaysia's capital of Kuala Lumpur. 

North Borneo is much undeveloped and very rich in natural resources.
One of the wealthiest oil producing countries is located in same island 
of Borneo, the tiny Sultanate of Brunei.  

Learn more about Sabah through the links below.


The Sultanate of Sulu was granted the territory as a prize for helping 
the Sultan of Brunei against his enemies and from then on that part of 
Borneo is recognized as part of the Sultan of Sulu's sovereignty. In 1878, 
Baron Von Overbeck, an Austrian partner representing The British North Borneo 
Co. and his partner British Alfred Dent, leased the territory known as "Sabah" 
- roughly translated as "the land beneath the winds". In return the company 
will provide arms to the Sultan to resist the spaniards and 5,000 Malaysian 
ringgits annual rental based on the Mexican dollars value at that time or 
its equivalent in gold. This lease have been continued until the independence 
and formation of the Malaysian federation in 1963 together with Singapore, 
Sarawak and Malaysia. Up to these days, the Malaysians have been continuing 
the rental payment of 5,300 Malaysian ringgits - a 300 ringgits increased from 
original rent.

In 1962 during the Pres. Diosdado Macapagal's administration (the father 
of the present president, Glorio Arroyo), the Philippines formally claimed 
Sabah based on the Sultanate of Sulu heirs' claim on the territory. The 
Philippines broke diplomatic relations with Malaysia after the federation 
have included "Sabah". The sultan's heirs have given the Philippine government 
the authority to pursue the claim legally in international courts. However, the 
succeeding administrations have either have ignored or set aside the claim for 
peaceful co-existent and trade relation with the Malaysians.  

One significant incident involving then President Marcos have briefly brought 
into limelight the Sabah claim once more. In 1972, the Marcos government have 
been training secretly a group of Muslim Filipinos in Corregidor, an island 
off Manila Bay, for possible intrusion in Sabah to pave the way to an armed 
secession of Sabah from Malaysia. But upon knowing of the plans, the recruits 
have mutinied and were eliminated except for one that swam the bay and was 
rescued. The newspapers have called this incident, the "Jabidah Massacre" 
named after the operation that was given by the military. The survivor divulged 
the plan and the claim was put in back burner once more. It was believe that 
because of the incident, the Malaysians have been aiding the Muslim separatists 
against the Philippine government. Some people says this distracted the attention 
to the claim on Sabah as the government was embroiled in containing the conflict. 


The claim was based on several historical facts and court judgement.

The lease agreement is definitely a proof otherwise there will be no basis for any 
agreement if such ownership was not established at all. The contract was between Sri 
Paduka Maulana Al Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam - representing the sultanate as owner 
and sovereign of Sabah on one hand, and that of Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and Alfred 
Dent, representing the British East India Co. (then became the North Borneo Co.), on 
the other as lessee of Sabah, was executed on June 22, 1878. Though the British turned 
over the possession and government of Sabah to the federation, the Malaysians have not 
remissed in paying the annual rental.  

The 1939 court judgement on the claim had handed ownership of North Borneo to the heirs 
of the Sultanate prior to the formation of Malaysian federation in 1963. The judgment 
of Chief Justice C.F.C. Makaskie of the High Court of North Borneo in the civil suit 
filed by the late Dayang Dayang Hadji Piandao and eight other heirs of the Sultan of 
Sulu, including the famous Putlih (Princess) Tarhata Kiram, upheld the validity of the 
claim of the heirs. 

Being a British colony did they favored the Malaysians than returning the leased 
territory to its rightful owners as per 1939 court judgement? Did the British influenced 
the outcome  of their sponsored 1962 plebiscite to which won by those who wanted to 
join the Malaysian federation than be an independent state. One also has to speculate 
as to why did the British respected a similar treaty with China by returning Hong Kong 
instead of conducting a plebiscite just like the one conducted in Sabah in 1962, is 
the Philippines a weak nation that can be ignored? These are some questions that need 
to be addressed by those who have the mandate to pursue the Philippine claim.

The Malaysian argument before the International Court (The Hague) is in the link below. 
This is based on the islands disputed between Indonesia and Malaysia wherein the 
Philippines is trying to intervene.


In the last few months the Malaysian authorities have been deporting, we are not sure 
if this is the right term for this action knowing the existence of legal claim to North 
Borneo, thousands of Filipinos from Sabah for being illegals and for lack of necessary 
documents. There are allegations of inhuman treatments and rapes by Malaysian authorities 
which are currently being investigated by both governments. It is also good to point out 
that illegal Indonesians are likewise being sent home through Kalimantan (Borneo part 
of Indonesia). Both the Philippine and the Indonesian governments have protested the 
mass deportation and have indignation rallies against the Malaysian action.

Since the time memorial the numerous ethnic tribes in the southern Philippines notably 
the Tausugs and Badjaos have been traversing the Celebes Sea from Sulu to Borneo and 
other parts of Indonesia. These tribes are sea faring people and settled from anywhere 
around the region. To curtail these movements, the Malaysians have decided to demand 
document from the Filipinos in Sabah. Undocumented Filipinos were deported and could 
only be admitted back when there are necessary papers presented. This situation is 
extremely hard specially to those who have fled the secessionist war during the seventies 
and eighties as they are refugees and do not have any travel documents. These Muslim 
Filipinos have considered Sabah as part of their domain as their ancestors have been 
doing centuries ago. That part of southeast asia is bound by common religion, history
and people.


As per official Philippine government stand, the Philippines will continue legal action 
through the international courts and also by bringing this claim again to the attention 
of the Malaysian government. One of the immediate objectives is to have the rent increased to 
what is a more realistic amount while a claim is still being disputed. 

There are apprehensions, as some quarters are claiming, that nothing will come out of this 
revived interest in the Sabah claim, they are saying that the Philippine government officials 
as in the past can be bribed to lose interest in the claim - there is no concrete evidence to 
this effect. The Malaysians are hoping that it will die a natural death for lack of will on 
the Philippine claimants to pursue further the claim over the years. The longer the dispute 
is settled, the harder (or maybe lesser) for the claimants to get any settlement.

Will the heirs get a just settlement in form of monetary compensation? The heirs had been 
offered money before by the Malaysians and have rejected the idea. Will the settlement comes 
with some portion of the disputed land for displaced Filipino muslims in Sabah? In any issue 
involving property dispute, possession is everything.

Will the Arroyo administration be transparent in negotiations with the Mahathir government 
or some kind of a deal will be struck without consultations with the other parties involved?  

We will see what will transpire in the future.

Related Sites:
Giving back Sabah to the Sulu sultanate By Noralyn Mustafa
The Sultan of Sulu's Lost Land by Manfred Rist  
Malaysia's Stand On Disputed Islands
Ummahnews-an independent and non-partisan global media service
Sabah Tourism Site
Facts On Sabah

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