Palace, SolGen take up Sabah bid

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos’ administration is in the process of firming up a position on its Sabah dispute with Malaysia as both the Palace and Solicitor General (SolGen) Menardo Guevarra cited ongoing reviews of the territorial issue.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the recent French arbitral award of $14.92 billion to the Sulu heirs “is not an issue of sovereignty or territory at the moment.”

A French arbitration court has “instructed” the Malaysian government to pay $14.92 billion to the descendants of the last Sulu sultan. Arbitrator Gonzalo Stampa, who is from Spain, issued the award in a Paris court.

Malaysian authorities were able to obtain a stay order from the appellate court in Paris after it received reports that $2 billion worth of assets of overseas units of state-owned Petronas were attached to the huge compensation order.

“I think I understand the case is in the nature of a private claim, by the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu with Malaysia,” according to Angeles.

Nonetheless, he mentioned the need for the President’s articulation of a statement he made about “not giving up a square inch of territory.”

It will have to be reduced into writing and into specifics after which we will announce if the statement is “in any way related to the Sabah claim.”

“At the moment, there is no such articulation. So, we’ll have to wait,” according to Angeles.

Guevarra, meanwhile, said his office is carefully studying the legal and constitutional implications of the $14.92 billion award from a French arbitration court to compensate the descendants of the last Sulu Sultan.

This was the response of Guevarra when asked if his office will take part in the rapidly developing issue on the Sultanate claims which already rocked Malaysia after lawyers of the Sulu royal family seized $2 billion worth of overseas assets of state oil company Petronas on the strength of the international tribunal’s ruling.

“The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), on its own, is carefully studying the legal and constitutional implications, if any, of the arbitral award in favor of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu,” Guevarra said.

Spanish Arbitrator Gonzalo Stampa issued the award in a Paris court where the Malaysian officials were not represented.

The French court issued the ruling based on the alleged breach of the 1878 contract between the Sultanate and the British Crown’s North Borneo Co. that provided a 5,300 Malaysian ringgit annual payment to the heirs.

Malaysia called the compensation as cession money but the Sultanate considers it as rental.

Malaysia halted the yearly payment, nonetheless, after the 2013 Lahad Datu armed incursion in which poorly-armed followers of the Sultanate launched a bold attempt at evicting Malaysia from Sabah.

Stampa had issued the award, ruling that the 1878 treaty was a commercial “international private lease agreement.”

By not paying the cession money since 2013, Stampa said Malaysia had breached the agreement and was given three months to pay up or interest charges will pile up.

The Sultan’s descendants made an initial claim of $32.2 billion comprising the unpaid cession money as well as how much they believe they are owed for the oil and gas found in the region.

On 17 March 2020, Kota Kinabalu High Court Judge Datuk Martin Indang ruled that Malaysia was the proper venue to resolve disputes arising from the 1878 deed and not the Spanish courts, which the local court said do not have authority nor jurisdiction over Malaysia.

Indang said this when deciding in favor of the Malaysian government in its suit against eight of the supposed descendants of the Sultan of Sulu at the Kota Kinabalu High Court on 17 March.

He said there was no binding agreement between the government and the Sultan’s heirs that compelled either party to also submit to arbitration in the event of a dispute.

Downplaying issue has consequences

Placing the territorial claim over Sabah on the back burner, particularly when former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was accused of betraying the peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), triggered the declaration of independence of the Bangsa Moro Republik (BMR) comprising Mindanao, Sulu, Palawan, Sabah and Sarawak.

The decision of the late President to abandon peace talks with the MNLF has triggered the declaration of independence of the break-away Bangsa Moro Republik.

The lawyer told the Daily Tribune that MNLF central committee has declared Davao city as the capital of BMR in its petition under the authority of United Nation General Assembly 1514 of 1960 granting independence to all colonized countries.

“The petition is now pending before the United Nations,” the source said.

MNLF founding chairperson Nur Misuari had given orders to freeze all political moves on the Declaration of Independence in respect of former President Rodrigo Duterte.

During the proclamation of independence in July 2013, Misuari has declared Mindanao, Palawan, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan including the Malaysian island of Sabah and Sarawak part of BMR territory.

It was in Davao city where Misuari first raised the BMR flag prior to the Zamboanga siege in September 2013.

Misuari however ordered the shelving of MNLF’s petition to pave the way for President Duterte’s move for the shift of the form of government from unitary to federal set up which the secessionist group fully supported.

“No more political activities related to independence in the petition to the UN,” the source quoted Misuari as saying.

The pronouncement comes hours after the Congress’ bicameral conference committee passed the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which replaces the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, with a new entity called Bangsamoro.

Bangsamoro addresses claim

“The MNLF declared the independence of territories of the Bangsa Moro People occupied by Malaysia and the Philippines,” the source said.

Misuari included Sabah and Sarawak in the BMR because the said territories were part of the Sultanate of Sulu long before Malaysia became a sovereign country.

The MNLF declaration of independence had gained the attention of the international community, particularly the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which is watching political developments in Mindanao.

The OIC granted MNLF a permanent observer status and recognizes Misuari as the sole representative of the Bangsamoro people in the Philippines.

The petition declaring the Independence of the Bangsa Moro Republik has already been submitted to the United Nations committee on decolonization.

The MNLF opted to adopt the so-called “Kosovo model” as a peaceful means to attain independence.

The source said MNLF has already renounced war and is pursuing a peaceful strategy similar to the declaration of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008.

Serbia said the declaration of independence by Kosovo was illegal and sought international validation from the International Court of Justice which said the declaration did not violate international law.

The source said that the declaration of Sabah and Sarawak as part of the BMR practically restore the historic and proprietary rights of the Sultanate of Sulu which up to this time is being recognized by Malaysia.

“The MNLF is just reasserting the rights of the people of Sulu over their ancestral and historic rights,” he said.

Alvin Murcia, Perseus Echeminada

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