Philippines’ baseless claim on Sabah

After all, it is a political drama that is unlikely to end because it is a useful and effective tool to fulfil some political agenda.

78 0
78 0
English

Published by The Sun Daily & Sin Chew, image from Free Malaysia Today.

The issue of the Philippines’ claim on Sabah, which can be dated back to as early as the formation of Malaysia in 1963, has always been the stumbling block to the betterment of bilateral ties between the two countries.

Despite the international consensus that Sabah is under the sovereignty of Malaysia, some Philippine politicians will, from time to time, play this political drama to fulfil their political agenda.

The latest drama is the possible revival of the Office of North Borneo Affairs in the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Philippines’ foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said this office will be dedicated to reclaiming Sabah. The Philippine House Foreign Affairs Committee has also approved the House Bill 6399 which would include Sabah in the map on Philippine passports.

It is reported that this new bill would amend the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 that “aims to emphasise and insist on our victory on the West Philippine Sea over China in the International Arbitral Tribunal in the Hague, the Netherlands, and our legal and historical rights over Sabah”.

Well, what a repetition of a previous baseless argument!

Another recent dispute involving both countries which has caught the attention of many is the diplomatic spat between Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Locsin on Twitter.

On July 27, Locsin reprimanded the US embassy in Manila after the latter tweeted about the distribution of hygiene kits to returning Filipinos repatriated from “Sabah, Malaysia” saying that “Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines”.

This immediately elicited reaction from Hishammuddin on July 29 who said Locsin’s remark was irresponsible and Malaysia will summon the Philippine ambassador for clarification. He reiterated “Sabah is, and will always be, part of Malaysia”.

This spat continued when Locsin alleged the Philippines’ claim on Sabah was a “historically factual statement” and that Malaysia tried to “derail the Arbitral Award”. He even asserted that “no country can tell another what it can and cannot say about what the latter regards as rightfully its own” and that Manila would therefore summon the Malaysian ambassador.

The Philippines’ claim on Sabah is based on the different interpretation of the 1878 Agreement between the then Sultan of Sulu and the British North Borneo Chartered Company. The ambiguous term pajakan in the agreement has multiple meanings. The British interpretation of the term as “grant and cede” was inherited by Malaysia, which contradicted the Philippines’ understanding of it as “lease” as interpreted by the Sulu Sultanate.

It is meaningless to continue to debate the interpretation of the term as it is almost impossible to contextualise the term. To resolve the dispute, we have to consider the thoughts of the Sabahans, a concept of self-determination in international law.

In fact, seen from this perspective, it clearly justifies the invalidity of the Philippines’ claim. Prior to the formation of Malaysia, the Malayan and British governments co-established the Cobbold Commission to survey the Sabah people’s opinion regarding this matter. The results showed that the majority of Sabahans were in favour of the formation of Malaysia.

Subsequently, a state-wide general election based on universal adult suffrage was held in December 1962. The main issue raised in the election was whether Sabah should as a state joined Malaysia. Out of a total of 119 seats, 113 were won by political parties which supported the formation of Malaysia, while the remaining six were won by independent candidates who were also in favour with the proposal.

This proved the Sabahans had fully exercised their right of self-determination and made their decision, which was to join Malaysia, in accordance with the United Nations (UN) Charter. However, the Philippines rejected the findings and results.

Despite the hardship faced, the then Malayan government held negotiations with the Philippines and Indonesia during the Tripartite Summit Meetings in Manila in 1963.

The outcome of the meeting was the Manila Accord, in which a UN Commission was invited to ascertain the Sabahans’ perception towards the formation of Malaysia. Also, the Philippines agreed to welcome the formation of Malaysia if the commission determined similar result as the previous Cobbold Commission.

Again, the result showed the majority of Sabahans wished to join Malaysia. Regrettably, in spite of its commitment in the Manila Accord, the Philippines chose to ignore the findings and continued the dispute which lasts until today.

There is no doubt international law is the guidebook to the resolution of territorial dispute and apparently, ancestral claim, or in this case, the Philippine “legal and historical rights over Sabah”, does not carry much weight under international law.

This prompts us to determine what exactly is the rationale behind this seeming nonsense.

It might be a political manoeuvre to turn Filipinos’ focus away from the government’s mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic. It could also be a display of its victory over China in the South China Sea arbitration without directly calling out Beijing due to fear of sanctions by the Asian giant. It might also be the prelude of the upcoming 2022 presidential election, in which the issue has been used to gain some political mileage.

After all, it is a political drama that is unlikely to end because it is a useful and effective tool to fulfil some political agenda.

However, the Philippines should note that this political drama is also a double-edged sword. While gaining benefits domestically, the Philippines ruins the bilateral ties with Malaysia and the unity of Asean as a whole.

Seeing the deteriorating geopolitics, in which a new Cold War between the US and China is likely to begin, we must recall the achievements of Asean in maintaining the peace and stability of the region during the America-Soviet Union Cold War.

Thus, the Philippines is urged to strengthen the unity of Asean together with Malaysia and other member states in this prologue to the new Cold War, rather than begetting an unnecessary diplomatic spat which disunites Asean.

Jamari Mohtar and Lim Ji Yi are part of the research team at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

Bahasa Melayu

Diterbitkan oleh Malaysia Gazatte & Utusan Malaysia.

Isu tuntutan Filipina ke atas Sabah sering menjadi batu penghalang dalam memperbaiki hubungan diplomatik antara kedua-dua negara sejak pembentukan Malaysia pada 1963. Meskipun terdapat kata sepakat dunia mengenai Sabah tertakluk di bawah kedaulatan Malaysia, dari masa ke semasa, segelintir ahli politik Filipina akan memainkan drama politik ini untuk memenuhi agenda politik mereka.

Yang terkini adalah kemungkinan pembukaan semula Pejabat Ehwal Borneo Utara di Jabatan Ehwal Luar (DFA) Filipina. Setiausaha Luar Filipina, Teodoro Locsin Jr, mengatakan pejabat ini dikhaskan untuk menuntut semula Sabah. Selain itu,
Jawatankuasa Ehwal Luar, Dewan Perwakilan Filipina telah meluluskan Rang Undang-Undang Dewan 6399 yang akan menyertakan Sabah ke dalam peta pasport Filipina.

Rang itu akan meminda Akta Pasport Filipina 1996 yang "bertujuan untuk menekankan kemenangan kita di Laut Filipina Barat ke atas China di Tribunal Timbangtara Antarabangsa di Hague, Belanda, dan menegaskan hak undang-undang dan sejarah kita ke atas Sabah”. Satu lagi pertikaian yang melibatkan kedua-dua negara yang telah menarik perhatian umum telah berlaku antara Menteri Luar, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin
Hussein dengan Locsin di Twitter. Pada 27 Julai, Locsin menegur Kedutaan Amerika Syarikat (AS) di Manila setelah pihak AS membuat ciapan Twitter berkenaan pengedaran alat kebersihan diri kepada warga Filipina yang dihantar pulang dari Sabah, Malaysia, dengan berkata, "Sabah bukan sebahagian daripada Malaysia jika anda ingin berurusan dengan Filipina".

Ini segera menimbulkan reaksi Hishammuddin pada 29 Julai di mana beliau menyifatkan kenyataan Locsin tidak bertanggungjawab dan Malaysia akan memanggil Duta Filipina ke Malaysia untuk mendapatkan penjelasan. Beliau menegaskan "Sabah merupakan dan akan sentiasa menjadi sebahagian daripada Malaysia". Pertikaian ini berlanjutan apabila Locsin mendakwa tuntutan Filipina ke atas Sabah ialah quot;pernyataan fakta berdasarkan sejarah" dan Malaysia cuba quot;menggagalkan Anugerah Timbangtara". Beliau malah menegaskan, "tiada negara dapat memberitahu negara lain mengenai apa negara lain itu boleh dan tidak boleh bercakap terutama berhubung dengan apa yang dianggap oleh negara itu sebagai haknya sendiri" dan justeru, akan memanggil duta Malaysia.

Tuntutan Filipina ke atas Sabah berdasarkan tafsiran berbeza mengenai Perjanjian 1878 antara Sultan Sulu dengan saudagar Alfred Dent dan Baron von Overbeck. Istilah pajakan yang samar-samar dalam perjanjian itu mempunyai pelbagai makna.
Tafsiran pihak Inggeris bermakna "pemberian dan penyerahan" yang menjadi asas pegangan Malaysia. Ini bertentangan dengan pemahaman Filipina mengenainya
sebagai "penyewaan" seperti yang ditafsirkan oleh Kesultanan Sulu.

Meneruskan perbahasan pentafsiran istilah tersebut hanya membuang masa kerana hampir mustahil untuk kita memahaminya mengikut konteks. Bagi menyelesaikan
pertikaian ini, kita harus mempertimbangkan fikiran orang Sabah, iaitu konsep penentuan nasib sendiri dalam undang-undang antarabangsa. Hakikatnya, jika dilihat dari perspektif ini, ia jelas membuktikan ketidaksahihan tuntutan Filipina. Sebelum pembentukan Malaysia, kerajaan Persekutuan Tanah
Melayu dan Britain telah menubuhkan Suruhanjaya Cobbold untuk meninjau pendapat masyarakat Sabah terhadap perkara ini. Hasilnya, sebahagian besar rakyat Sabah menyokong pembentukan Malaysia.

Selepas itu, pilihan raya umum di seluruh negeri berdasarkan hak mengundi dewasa diadakan pada Disember 1962. Isu utama yang dibangkitkan dalam pilihan raya itu adalah sama ada Sabah sebagai satu negeri harus menyertai Malaysia. Dari keseluruhan 119 kerusi, 113 dimenangi oleh parti politik yang menyokong
pembentukan Malaysia, sementara enam selebihnya dimenangi oleh calon bebas yang juga menyokong cadangan itu.

Ini membuktikan rakyat Sabah telah menggunakan sepenuhnya hak penentuan nasib sendiri dan membuat keputusan untuk menyertai Malaysia sejajar dengan Piagam Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu (PBB). Namun, Filipina menolak keputusan ini.
Walaupun menghadapi kesukaran, kerajaan Persekutuan Tanah Melayu mengadakan rundingan dengan Filipina dan Indonesia semasa mesyuarat persidangan kemuncak tiga pihak di Manila pada 1963.

Hasil persidangan itu ialah Persetujuan Manila, di mana satu suruhanjaya PBB diundang untuk mengenal pasti persepsi orang Sabah terhadap pembentukan Malaysia. Filipina juga bersetuju untuk menyambut pembentukan Malaysia sekiranya suruhanjaya tersebut mendapati keputusan yang serupa dengan Suruhanjaya
Cobbold sebelumnya.

Sekali lagi, hasilnya menunjukkan majoriti rakyat Sabah ingin menyertai Malaysia. Namun, walaupun Filipina telah menzahirkan komitmennya untuk mengiktiraf penyertaan Sabah dalam Malaysia semasa Persetujuan Manila, hingga hari ini ia
masih mengabaikan keputusan itu dan meneruskan pertikaiannya. Ini mendorong kita untuk menyelidik apakah hasrat sebenarnya di sebalik cakap-cakap kosong Filipina ini.

Ini mungkin satu muslihat politik untuk mengalihkan perhatian rakyat Filipina daripada salah urus pemerintah mereka dalam menangani wabak Covid-19. Ia juga kerkemungkinan mewar-warkan kemenangannya ke atas China dalam Timbangtara
Laut China Selatan tanpa menamakan China secara langsung akibat  kebimbangan sekatan ekonomi oleh gergasi Asia ini. Barangkali juga ia merupakan permainan politik menjelang pilihan raya presiden 2022 di mana isu ini telah dipergunakan
untuk mendapatkan kepentingan politik.

Namun, Filipina harus ingat drama politik ini juga satu pedang bermata dua. Walaupun manfaat dapat diraih dalam negeri, hubungan dua halanya dengan Malaysia serta perpaduan Asean pastinya akan terjejas. Sedang Perang Dingin Baru antara AS dengan China berkemungkinan bermula, kejayaan Asean dalam mengekalkan keamanan dan kestabilan rantau ini semasa Perang Dingin yang terdahulu perlu diambil sebagai pelajaran yang amat berharga.

Justeru, Filipina perlu digesa membuka matanya agar terdorong memperkukuh perpaduan Asean bersama-sama dengan Malaysia dan negara-negara anggota lain dalam prolog Perang Dingin Baru ini, dan bukannya mencetuskan pertikaian diplomatik yang akhirnya mendatangkan kerapuhan perpaduan Asean.

Jamari Mohtar dan Lim Ji Yi adalah sebahagian daripada pasukan penyelidik dari EMIR Research, sebuah organisasi pemikir bebas yang berfokuskan kepada pencernaan saranan-saranan dasar strategik berteraskan penyelidikan yang terperinci, konsisten dan menyeluruh.

In this article