Not in Manila’s interest to revive Sulu Sultanate: Expert
15th October 2004
Kota Kinabalu: Leading historian Prof. Dr D.S. Ranjit Singh of the University of Malaya said any attempt to settle an international dispute at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague must have the concurrence of both the parties involved.
Hence, a reported claim that the so-called dispute over the ownership of Sabah has been taken to the ICJ cannot be true.
“The ICJ will not accept the case if it is done unilaterally as both Malaysia and the Philippines must agree on the matter before it is brought before the World Court.
“Malaysia has not agreed to take the claim to ICJ because Sabah has been recognised as part of Malaysia when the case of Sipadan and Ligitan Islands was decided (by the ICJ) in December 2002.
“Furthermore, the United Nations also recognises Malaysia as comprising the Peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak.
“So if Malaysia were to agree to bring the matter to the World Court, it would mean that we acknowledge the (so-called Sulu Sultan’s) claim,” he said at a dialogue with the Sabah Law Association (SLA) at Hyatt Regency Kinabalu here.
The dialogue followed a luncheon talk on the Sipadan & Ligitan Issue and Basis of the ICJ’s Judgement organised by the association.
However, most of the discussion centred on the claim by a so-called newly-installed Sulu sultan Rodinood Julaspi Kiram II that Sabah belonged to his family.
Prof. Ranjit was responding to SLA’s Continuing Legal Education Committee Chairman Alex Decena who queried why Malaysia had not agreed to bring the Sabah claim to ICJ for a once-and-for-all resolution.
To this, Ranjit reiterated that the so-called Sultan cannot take the case to the World Court without the consent of a second party.
“Moreover, for an individual to do so is even more difficult. He (Sultan) is actually a private person without the attributes of constitutional or legal standing.
“Individuals have no international standing nor the attributes of an international personality to make the move. Only sovereign states can negotiate,” he said.
To SLA Vice-President Ahmad A. Rahman query on the chances of the “Sultan” pursuing the claim with ICJ if the Philippine Government granted him sovereignty by reviving the sultanate and allowing him to form his independent kingdom, he said:
“Politically, it is not wise for the Philippine Government to do so. No country in the world will ever try to give full independence to a province and allow it to form its own government.”
SLA member Christina Liew called for a permanent settlement, saying the issue should not be swept under the carpet.
“We have been independent for 41 years, yet the claim has not been put to rest. We should resolve it by approaching the rightful heir to avert potential security problems without discounting the possibility of terrorism.”
In reply, the Professor said it was difficult to determine the rightful heir, considering the last Sultan of Sulu left 70 families as heirs.
“The sovereignty issue is out of the question. Sabah Document l and Sabah Document ll of 22 January, 1878 (signed by the then Sultan of Sulu, Sultan Muhammad Jamaluladzam) are evidence of the Sultan having relinquished all his rights and sovereignty over Sabah permanently.
“And officially, the sultanate (which existed in the past) does not exist today as the Philippine Government had de-recognised it in 1936.
“The title has no constitutional significance. Perhaps the only issue involved (if any) is the annual rent which has to be settled.”
In his reply to Syari’e lawyer Maijol Mahap, he said based on the terms of the grant, we are obliged to pay the rent of 5,000 dollars ($1,315) to the heirs and successors every year.
“We are bound by the 1878 Treaty, but at the same time, we do not want a litigation by 70 other groups.”
Answering another lawyer who raised the possibility of any inconsistency of language used in the 1878 Treaty, Prof. Ranjit said the agreement, all executed and signed by the Sultan (witnessed by William Hood Treacher, then Governor of Labuan and Acting Consul-General for Borneo), was written in three scripts (Jawi, Romanised Malay and English), using two languages (Malay and English).
Chong Ket Vui wanted to know whether the treaty was signed by thumbprint as the Sultan was illiterate, to which the historian said, it had the Sultan’s seal and signature.
“The Sultan might not understand English but he had translators. He was not entirely backward. We cannot assume that the Court of the Sultan did not have experts.
“He was a powerful ruler who had international dealings with the outside world,” said the Professor.
Teo Chee Kang asked: “Assuming that the case is taken to ICJ for a decision, who will have a better Treaty-based title and better effectivities?”
Enlightening the audience, Prof Ranjit said based on Sabah Document 1, he has no doubt that the title rests with Malaysia.
“The document is very clearÖthe then Sultan had transferred his rights and sovereignty over Sabah to the Overbeck-Dent Association (ODA) in perpetuity. As such, the newly-crowned Sultan has no title to the land.
“Talking of effectivities, I believe we (Sabah) are in a better position, having been independent for 41 years through joining Malaysia.”
To a question by V.K. Liew, Prof. Ranjit said he did not know how the claimant arrived at the staggering figure of US$20 billion (RM76 billion), which the Sultan’s brother claimed belonged to the Sultanate of Sulu but was now being held in the Malaysian Treasury.
“But I am not saying the Government has not paid.”
This prompted Josephine Hadikusumo to question the validity of the Sabah claim. “Hypothetically speaking, if we don’t pay the annual rent or if we have skipped a couple of years, are we in breach and is the claim valid? Are we in danger?” she asked.
Going by the Sabah Document 1 and Sabah Document ll, in the event of any dispute, both parties would submit the matter to the judgment and opinion of Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul-General at Brunei. However, Brunei had gained independence from Britain in 1984.
Prof. Ranjit contended that Malaysia is now the successor to the 1878 Treaty whereby the grant by the Sultan of Sulu of territories and lands on the mainland of the island of Borneo is legally and constitutionally the inheritance of the present sovereign Malaysian Government.