“With no help from the Department of Foreign Affairs in sight, the heirs filed the pertinent suit for damages against Malaysia before a Paris-based international arbitration court”
The late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was right. Sabah, also known as North Borneo, belongs to the Philippines by historic right and legal title.
For starters, the Sultanate of Sulu has owned Sabah since the 15th century. In 1878, the sultanate leased the area to a British enterprise, the British North Borneo Company. The annual rental was to be paid by the company to the sultanate.
The British North Borneo Company sold Sabah to the British government in 1946. That sale is void because the company does not own Sabah, and merely leased it. One cannot validly sell what one does not own.
In 1962, the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu signed an agreement with the Republic of the Philippines which officially made Sabah Philippine territory. Then President Diosdado Macapagal signed the agreement, and it remains valid to this day.
Before 1963, Malaysia was a British colony. In 1963, the British turned over Sabah to the newly independent Malaysia. That turnover is illegal because the British cannot give away land which never belonged to them in the first place.
Under British management, Sabah was called North Borneo. The Malaysians later changed its name to Sabah.
Prior to its independence from the British, the anticipated Malaysian leader, Tunku Abdul Rahman, signed the Manila Accord of 1963. That accord was also signed by President Diosdado Macapagal, and by President Sukarno of Indonesia.
Under the Manila Accord, Malaysia categorically agreed that the incorporation of Sabah into Malaysian territory is subject to the Phliippine claim to Sabah. After that, Malaysia reneged on its obligations under the accord.
While Malaysia insists that Sabah is Malaysian territory, it continued to pay the Sultanate of Sulu the annual rent for Sabah as stipulated in the lease contract executed in 1878 by the sultanate and the British North Borneo Company.
In 2013, as a scheme to make it appear that Sabah is really Malaysian property, Malaysia unilaterally and self-servingly stopped paying the Sultanate of Sulu the annual rental for Sabah.
Earlier in 1967, President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. attempted to retake Sabah from Malaysia through the efforts of a secret commando unit. That plan, called Operation Merdeka, did not push through after Senator Ninoy Aquino exposed it in Congress in early 1968.
Later that year, Congress enacted Republic Act 5446 which officially declared Sabah a part of Philippine territory.
The position taken by President Marcos Sr. that Sabah belongs to the Philippines by historic right or legal title found recognition in Section 1, Article I of the 1973 Constitution. This provision defines the national territory of the Republic of the Philippines.
Unfortunately, the 1987 Constitution sponsored by President Corazon Aquino stirred confusion. Article I of the 1987 Constitution, which defines the national territory, deleted the phrase “by historic right or legal title” found in the 1973 charter.
Jesuit priest Joaquin Bernas, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission which drafted the 1987 Constitution, explained in his treatise on the charter that the said deletion notwithstanding, the Philippine claim to Sabah remains unabandoned. Bernas said the Commission deleted the phrase only so as not to offend Malaysia.
Can you imagine that? The 1986 Constitutional Commission, which includes ex-Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and lawyer Christian Monsod among its members, was afraid of offending Malaysia even if that country illegally occupies Philippine territory!
Fortunately, the Supreme Court categorically stated in a ruling in 2011 that the Philippines has not abandoned its claim to Sabah.
In 2013, a private commando unit organized by the Sultanate of Sulu attempted to invade Sabah for the purpose of retaking it from the haughty Malaysians. The attempt was unsuccessful. Commandos captured by the Malaysians were jailed.
Then President Noynoy Aquino took the side of the Malaysians and publicly scolded the Filipino commandos. He also ordered that criminal charges be filed against those who managed to return to the Philippines. Albert del Rosario, his Secretary of Foreign Affairs, openly sided with Malaysia.
With no help from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in sight, the heirs filed the pertinent suit for damages against Malaysia before a Paris-based international arbitration court.
Last month, the arbitration court ruled in favor of the heirs, and awarded them the amount of US$14.9-billion, enforceable against Malaysian assets worldwide.
Surprisingly, incumbent DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo refuses to comment on this welcome development, on the pitiful excuse that the Philippines is not a party to the arbitration case.
So what if the Philippines is not a party to the case?
The case involves Philippine territory illegally held by Malaysia since 1963. The arbitration ruling is a long-sought Philippine victory in the Sabah issue, and this weakling Manalo opts to remain silent.
Manalo’s silence is an insult to the Filipino people. The Commission on Appointments should reject outright his nomination as DFA Secretary.