If Sabah belonged to the Sulus….

by Tay Tian Yan, translated by Dominic Loh

Of course, no right-minded Malaysian would think this way, unless he is a descendent of the Sulu sultanate and is 350 years old now.

What I’m trying to say is that things that took place three and a half centuries ago should at best make a nice gossip topic, not a real armed expedition to stake territorial claims.

350 years ago, the Sultan of Brunei ceded North Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu, giving today’s sultan some outlandish pretexts to reclaim his territory without the sultan nor his followers realising their illusionary identities.

If anyone has the guts to claim Sabah as a Sulu territory, perhaps he should first consult the Kadazans who have been dwelling on this land for thousands of years!

It is essential for the government to watch the attitudes in Manila. Over the past few weeks, the political and media circles in Manila have generally displayed their compassion towards the Sulu gunmen.

Some said the sultan only wanted to reclaim his territory while others felt it was not just a matter of the sultan, but the Philippines!

So, they wanted the government to intervene and pressurise Kuala Lumpur, or at least bring the case to the International Court of Justice.

Some politicians in Manila still believe the issue of Sabah’s sovereignty is anything but settled, and that their country still has a stake in it. The Sulu sultan’s initiative has given them a perfect boost to advance their ill-intentioned ambitions.

President Aquino is hard pressed. If he plays down the issue, he could be seen as weak or even a traitor pledging all-important national interests.

But rationally speaking, Aquino is well aware of the fact that what the gunmen did was an act of invasion that must never be endorsed. Moreover, he would not want to trade his country’s relationship with Malaysia.

To be fair, Aquino is a man of principle who knows he has to draw a distinct line between the government and the gunmen.

Meanwhile, he also urged Malaysia to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner and allow the Sulus to withdraw safely.

Malaysia deferred the plan of firing at the intruders at the request of the Philippine president.

But with the shots eventually fired, the president is facing mounting pressure from the politicians and media in Manila, which is not a good thing.

As a matter of fact, the viewpoints of Manila’s nationalists are hardly valid. The more they condone the intrusion, the more they are hitting their own feet with the stone.

The Sulu sultan wants to claim not only Sabah, but more importantly the western peninsula of Mindanao as well as over 800 other islands in the republic.

If the sultan were to succeed in his claim over Sabah, then Manila would soon have to surrender these territories to him as well.

The point is, Sulu sultanate is no longer in existence today, as it was already wiped out by the Spaniards centuries ago, its territories annexed into the Philippines.

A subsequent treaty between Spain and the British saw Sabah becoming a crown colony, and much later a constituent part of Malaysia through a state-wide referendum.

As for Sulu sultanate, its existence has been historically denied, from the time of Spanish colonisation, to American colonisation and later the independent Philippines. And since its sovereignty has never been recognised, how could it justify its territorial claims?

If anyone in the Philippines still supports the gunmen, he should first and foremost assist them to recover their ancestral lands in Mindanao.

And to complicate things further, there are around nine individuals claiming to be the rightful successors to the sultanate. But who is the real one?


* This article first appeared on mysinchew.com and the opinion expressed is the personal view of the columnist.

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