By Perry Diaz
By Perry Diaz
To the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, Sabah is only worth 5,300 ringgits (the equivalent of US$1,500), the annual rent the Sultanate has been receiving from the Federation of Malaysia since 1963 when the federation was created from a group of former British colonies including Sabah. But with Sabah’s large quantity of natural resources including oil and gas, the revenue generated is out of proportion to the rent paid to the Sultanate of Sulu. It’s cheap… obscenely cheap!
In November 2011, Reuters reported the discovery of oil offshore of Sabah of which initial estimates put the well’s oil reserves at 227 million barrels. It didn’t take the giant Petronas long to infuse billions in investments. Petronas began five major projects: Sabah-Sarawak Gas Pipeline (SSGP), Sabah Oil & Gas Terminal (SOGT), Kimanis Power Plant (KPP), Kimanis Petroleum Training Centre (KTC), and Kinabalu NAG (non-associated gas) upstream development. The SOGT has a daily capacity to handle up to 300,000 barrels of crude oil and one billion cubic feet of gas.
Sabah, with an area of 76,115 square kilometers, is the second largest of the 13 states in the Malaysian federation. With a population of more than 3.2 million — the majority of them are Tausugs from Sulu — it has a large number of overseas Filipino workers. Of the 600,000 Filipinos working in Malaysia, most of them are in Sabah. Filipinos come and go and nobody would pay any attention… until now.
The group of Filipinos turned out to be members of the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu. Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, leads the group. And they want their ancestral land back.
The question is: Does the Sultan of Sulu have any legal claim to ownership of Sabah?
In 1878, Sultan Jamalul Ahlam of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo leased North Borneo — which became known as “Sabah” — to Gustavus Von Overbeck, an Austrian, and Alfred Dent, his British partner. The written agreement used “padjak,” the Tausug word for “lease.” However, the lessee interpreted it to mean, “grant” or “cede.” The annual “lease” amount was 5,000 Mexican gold pieces (called Mexican dollars). The agreement also specified that the rights to Sabah couldn’t be transferred to any other person or country without the Sultan of Sulu’s express consent.