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Via Hafiz, the Sulu sultan asserts his claim on Sabah:

In a speech at the Manila Pavilion Hotel in Manila, the sultan said, “I am getting old and the wait is too long and so I decided to sign a development contract with some legitimate foreign companies to develop our property.”

It’s sad that a former royal family refuses to find legitimate work, and instead tries to claim territory and assert sovereignity. The Sulu Sultanate leased, permanently, North Borneo (today’s Sabah and Labuan) to the British North Borneo Company, which subsequently came under British control – with a caveat that the lease cannot be transfered without the consent of the sultanate. 10 years after that, Spain conquered remaining Sulu territory and relinquish all claims to Sabah.

The Philippine and Sulu claim is that, as the territory has changed hands without the Sultan’s consent, the lease is void. However, the North Borneo Company was chartered in the United Kingdom, and the charter was simply moved to the government, reflecting no transfer of lease. The thorny issue is that when the British gave Sabah to Malaysia, it is a transfer of property.

On the other Sulu Sultanate doesn’t exist anymore, which means the lease is over. Instead, perhaps in folly, the company, then the British, and from 1963, Malaysia continued to pay $1,000 to the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate. The British didn’t recognize this as a purchase, rather a lease.

The United States, and later, the Philippines, claim historical lineage and continuity from the Sulu Sultanate – a claim revoked by the preceding Spain. The Sultan of Sulu also claims it, but the Philippine government has not recognized any of the last five sultans (Malaysia, by virtue of the $1,000 payment, has) – he doesn’t fit any definition of a “sovereign”.

There are two ways I can think of out of such a claim — create a new Sabah government that asserts independent sovereignity and cease recognition of the lease, or perhaps far more sound, just make the Sultan of Sulu the Sultan over Sabah (add him to the Council of Rulers, for example – one extra sultan won’t hurt). Since he would be exercising direct sovereignity over Sabah (albeit limited by constitution), claims by the Philippines would fall in any international court.


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