Amina Rasul discussed, in a comprehensive article, the historical antecedents of the present situation in Sabah. She narrates that the Malaysians claim that in the agreement between its predecessor the British East Indies Co. and the Sultan of Sulu, the term “padjak” meant “grant” or “cede”. On the other hand, in Tausug the term means “lease”.
Perhaps a bit of statutory construction is in order:
- The correct definition of the term “padjak” at the time the agreement was entered into must be determined.
- An examination of the entire agreement – and not just the parties’ respective definitions of “padjak” – will determine their intention.
- If it will be determined that there was actually no meeting of the minds between the parties – the Sultan really intended to lease Sabah to the British East Indies Co., while the latter really intended to purchase the same – then the agreement is null and void.
- If the Malaysian version is true, namely that the Sultan of Sulu ceded Sabah to the British East India Co., and that that the RM5,300 that it pays annually to the Sultan’s heirs is “cession money”, then the logical conclusion is that the annual “cession money” are installment payments on the purchase price of Sabah. If so, what is the purchase price? And for how long will the installments be paid?
Another interesting point raised by Rasul is that sometime in 1962 Sultan Esmail Kiram turned over all his claims over Sabah to the Philippine government. Has the present Sultan Jamaulul III, whose followers are presently in Sabah, and who complained of being left out during the negotiations between the MILF and the government repudiated the actions of his predecessor?
Aside from Sultan Jamaulul III, have the other heirs of Sultan Esmail Kiram also repudiated his actions? As Rasul narrates:
“In 1996, Princess Denchurai Kiram, daughter of Princess Tarhata Kiram and administrator of her estate, wrote then Prime Minister Mahathir to raise the rental to $1,000,000. She also stated that she and the other heirs were willing to renounce the claim if Kuala Lumpur will provide a fair settlement. The letter was ignored by Mr. Mahathir.
In June 2010, the Sulu provincial board passed a resolution supporting the demand of the heirs to increase the yearly payment to at least $500 million.
Weeks earlier, Mr. Misuari issued a statement calling the attention of Malaysia to settle the Sabah issue. Misuari’s first wife, the late Desdemona Tan, and present wife Ruayda, are heirs to Sabah since they are descendants of Dayang-Dayang (Queen) Hadja Piandao, who was acknowledged to have 3/8 share of Sabah.
In January 2001, Sultan Esmail Kiram II, the brother of Jamalul III, also wrote Mr. Mahathir, this time through President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Princess Denchurain’s daughter, Princess Tajmahal, was a co-signatory. According to reports, their demand was for $855 million.”
The foregoing acts of the descendants of Sultan Esmail Kiram, if true, will seriously impair the Philippines’ arguments in support of its claim to Sabah, if it will eventually press those claims.