Rights matter 

The decision of the French arbitration court for Malaysia to compensate the Sultanate of Sulu $14.9 billion over the breach of a colonial-era contract the nation inherited from the British Empire involved rights foregone through the years.

This was how former defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro described the significance of the award that led to the recent garnishment of $2 billion worth of assets of Malaysian oil giant Petronas in Luxembourg.

The decision involved the fair value of the lost income of the Sultanate as a result of changed circumstances, which was the breach in the terms of the 1878 contract.

What was not stated in the award was the “way forward” after the decision was issued.

The strategy of Malaysia was inherited from the British, according to Teodoro.

“When the British North Borneo Co. acquired Sabah, The Netherlands and other nations objected against the practice of the British Crown to colonize using the private company.”

“So, Malaysia will insist that the territory is theirs because they knew the resources that Sabah has.”

During his tenure as defense secretary, Teodoro related that Malaysia was actively involved as intermediary in the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Strangely, the MILF never mentioned the Sabah claim during the negotiation process unlike the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), under its chairperson Nur Misuari, which aggressively pursued the Sultanate’s proprietary assertion that Sabah is part of the Philippines.

During the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) was signed, but which the Supreme Court later on rejected as unconstitutional.
The MoA-AD was the product of negotiations that Malaysia was part of, Teodoro recalled.

Indonesia, under the watch of the late president Fidel Ramos, led the mediation with the MNLF and the Philippine government that was supposed to be the final peace agreement in Mindanao, resulting to the forming of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Later on, however, came the MILF rebellion. After the all-out war campaign of president Joseph Estrada, his successor Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, initiated negotiations with the MILF, which aimed to ultimately establish the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity that Malaysia brokered.

Even in the forming of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, Malaysia was a key partner.

Since evicting Malaysia from Sabah is impossible, Teodoro said the next logical step would be the renegotiation of the terms of the deal that should result into a just and reasonable amount of compensation.

The 5,300 Malaysian ringgit lease yearly, which is about P70,000, is even lower than the minimum wage of a Filipino worker, a member of the royal family said.

A just resolution of the more than a century-old dispute is long overdue.

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