Locsin’s challenge

"That should be as clear as clear can be."

Foreign Affairs Secretary TeddyBoy Locsin has just thrown a challenge to all those who have been haranguing the Duterte administration for its “continued inability” to stand up to China and assert our rights over the Spratlys and other outcroppings in the West Philippine Sea allegedly accorded in that arbitral ruling in the Netherlands some years back.

Well, Locsin said for the umpteenth time that contrary to the critics’ misguided if not malicious assertions, the Philippines has never abandoned its claims over the Spratlys in the same manner that we continue to assert our claim over the resource rich State of Sabah which to this day is considered home to close a million Filipinos, mostly Tausugs, from Sulu and Tawi Tawi.

So, Locsin’s retort is clear: if you guys are really as assertive and patriotic as you claim to be then join the government in standing up not only for our claim over the Spratlys which, to most experts, stand on shaky grounds but also over Sabah which has been and continues to be far superior and founded on solid ground.

Apparently, Locsin was responding to the unwarranted whistling of the anti-China crowd and, more importantly, to the complaint of the current Sultan of Sulu who stated that Malaysia has haughtily declared it will stop paying rent, measly though it mayvbe, to the Sultanate after doing so for the past 162 years in retaliation for the alleged “illegal entry of Filipinos led by the brother of the Sultan in Sabah in 2013 which resulted in the death of 60 warriors and the incarceration of almost a hundred others.” As a result of that unwarranted move by the Malaysians, the Sultanate reiterated its rightful claim and sovereignty over Sabah which it has since ceded to the Philippine government in the ‘60s.

That assertion merited a terse issuance from the Malaysian Foreign Ministry last July 29 stating: “This is an irresponsible statement that affects bilateral ties. The Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs (Hishammudin Hussein) will summon the Philippines Ambassador on Monday to explain. Sabah is, and will always be, part of Malaysia.”

To that statement, Secretary Locsin immediately tweeted the day after stating in no uncertain terms that “We have and continue to assert our rights in the Spratlys

(West Philippine Sea). I am doing that with regard Sabah. There have been repeated attempts to sell that claim but no Philippine President has succumbed.” He has also summoned the Malaysian Ambassador next Monday (Friday being a holiday) to explain.

That tit-for-tat exchange was expected given the history of the country’s claim over Sabah which formally dates back to 1961, some 52 years earlier than the Netherlands arbitration, when then President Diosdado Macapagal lodged it before the United Nations in anticipation of the formal formation of the Federation of Malaysia. This included Singapore with Sarawak and Sabah in the island of Borneo under the guidance, auspices and protection of the British government.

Our position is clear and unequivocal: since the 18th century, Sabah has been under the protection and sovereignty of the Sultanate of Sulu which ceded the same to the Philippines in the 1960s, prompting the Macapagal administration to file the claim.

As the government’s brief in its submission to the United Nations stated:

“To put it in capsule form: it is our legal position that the Sultanate of Sulu had been recognized by the United Kingdom as the sovereign ruler of North Borneo; that the aforesaid contract of 1878 whereby the Sultan of Sulu granted certain concessions and privileges to Overbeck and Dent (representing the privately chartered British North Borneo Company) in consideration of an annual tribute of 500 Malayan dollars was one of lease; that whatever be the characterization of the contract, Overbeck and Dent did not and could not in any event acquire, as they could not have acquired, under applicable rules of international law, sovereignty or dominion over North Borneo; that the British North Borneo Company did not acquire as in fact it was not authorized to acquire, sovereignty or dominion over the North Borneo territory; that the British Government consistently barred the British North Borneo Company from acquiring sovereignty or dominion over North Borneo by maintaining that the same resided in the Sultan of Sulu; that as a consequence, the British Crown, on the strength of the North Borneo Cession Order of 1946 did not and could not have acquired from the British North Borneo Company sovereignty or dominion over North Borneo, since the Company itself did not have such sovereignty; that the said Cession Order was a unilateral act which did not produce legal results in the form of a new title; and that the Sultanate of Sulu, which in 1957 publicly and formally repudiated the Cession Order and terminated the lease contract of 1878, continued to exist, in reference to North Borneo, until the Philippines, by virtue of the title it had acquired from the Sultanate—and this was the formal Deed of Cession signed by the Sultan of Sulu in favor of the Republic of the Philippines in 1962—became vested with sovereignty and dominion over North Borneo.”

To back up this submission, the government attached twenty documents dating as far back as the end of the 17th century which clearly indicated the sovereignty of the Sultanate of Sulu over North Borneo (Sabah and other parts) as ceded by the then Sultan of Brunei for the former’s assistance in quelling the rebellion against it during those times. Even the British Foreign Minister, Lord Granville, so explicitly admitted so when he advised: “....“the British Crown assumes no dominion or sovereignty over the territories occupied by the British North Borneo Company, nor does it purport to grant to the Company any powers of government thereover. It merely confers upon the persons associated status and incidents a body corporate, and recognizes the grants of territory and the powers of government made and delegated by the Sultans in whom the sovereignty remains vested....” That has been and continued to be the standing of Sabah in international law and the community of nations until it was somehow upended with the formation of the Federation of Malaysia which prompted protests from the Philippines and, yes, Indonesia. What prevented any escalation of tensions after we laid our claim was the intervention of the UN, the formation of MaPhilIndo and the inherent desire to settle the dispute amicably. That remains our position despite this renewed “war of words” and, of course, the continuing threat of the Great Powers (the colonialists) led by Britain to maintain Sabah under its orbit come what may.

But no matter. What is important is our claim remains intact and our position unaffected even by what the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago’s assertion that “Malaysia has wrongfully and unlawfully applied the principle of effectivites in its claim of sovereignty over Sabah.” This is precisely what we have been saying since the 60s when we managed to exact from no less than then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaysia, a statement wherein he mentioned that in 1878 “the British North Borneo Company (BNBC) only had a pajak agreement with the Sultan of Sulu over Sabah” Pajak in the Malay dictionary is defined as “power to do something by paying rent to the government...a lease of contracts (power of rights) that allow others to use or occupy a land, building, etc of others in a certain period of time.”

That should be as clear as clear can be. And definitely cemented in law and binding on the parties unlike that shaky arbitral ruling on the Spratlys being bandied around by those who should know better.

Topics: Jonathan Dela Cruz , Foreign Affairs Secretary TeddyBoy Locsin , China , Spratlys , West Philippine Sea
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