By Mike Frialde/The Philippine Star – The nearly P70,000 given annually to the sultanate of Sulu by Malaysia is cession money and not rental payment for Sabah, the country’s foreign minister said yesterday.
“The 1878 agreement between Alfred Dent and Baron von Overbeck of the British North Borneo Company and the sultan of Sulu at that time stated that the sultan ceded the region of North Borneo permanently, and the heir is entitled to receive annual payment of 5,300 Mexican pesos. It is not payment for rent, but cession,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman told Malaysia’s TV3 Wednesday night.
“We have never recognized any outside claims that Sabah does not belong to Malaysia and these claims are non-negotiable. I feel sad because this group is claiming that Sabah is theirs,” he said, referring to Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and his followers still holed up in Sabah.
Some 300 followers of the sultan, led by his brother Agbimuddin, sailed to Sabah in February to establish settlement in what they called their homeland. A massive Malaysian offensive killed dozens and forced many of them into hiding.
“Let me stress that there will be no compromise of our country’s sovereignty and integrity,” he added.
Anifah said even the United Nations recognizes Sabah as part of Malaysia.
He said he and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario were puzzled by Kiram’s staking claim over Sabah at a time when Malaysia and the Philippines were preparing for elections.
“This case has been weathered. We (he and Del Rosario) are questioning why this incident is happening now,” he added.
He said reports that certain groups with vested interest could have orchestrated the incursion appeared to have basis. He cited reports from Reuters quoting a military official as saying that a Malaysian opposition figure had “invited” the sultan’s heirs to Sabah to discuss “land issues.”
The allegations, he stressed, did not come from Malaysia but from someone in the Philippines. He said he had suggested to Del Rosario that an investigation into the allegation be made.
“Maybe there are certain parties that do not want Malaysia or the leadership of the Malaysian government to be recognized,” the Malaysian official said.
“It is not impossible that there are people who are spiteful of the Barisan Nasional leadership led by our prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, which has excelled and gained recognition internationally,” Anifah said.
He defended the terrorist tag on the sultan’s followers, saying they had entered Malaysia armed with weapons and had killed security forces.
“They have no respect for our authorities and human rights. This is a terrorist act. Even with numerous discussions and dialogue sessions with the Philippine foreign affairs secretary, what has happened cannot be forgiven,” he said.
“However, both Del Rosario and I agree that we will continue discussing the best possible way to resolve this matter without further bloodshed,” he pointed out.
He cited Malaysia’s extension of the deadline for the group to surrender at least four times. He said the prime minister decided to give his “best efforts” to solve the impasse with the gunmen by extending the deadline for their surrender. He said his government’s move was meant to stave off bloodshed.
“Both Najib and President Aquino want it solved in the best way, thus agreed that we will work out the best diplomatic way to end it,” Anifah said.
“Only if needed and if both countries agree, will we proceed with an extradition order which will resolve it faster and easier,” he added.
Anifah said that even though Malaysia does not have an extradition treaty with the Philippines, it still could be done in the spirit of ASEAN solidarity and would depend on what is best for both nations.
In Manila, sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani said the word “padjak” in the 1878 contract cited by Anifah meant “lease” and not “cession.”
“If it is cession money, why are they still paying the heirs up to now? If it were cession money, why is it still being paid up to today? Kung cession, bakit walang tigil (why is there no end)?” Idjirani said.
He said the confusion may have stemmed from the wrong translation of the word “padjak.” Experts in Bahasa Malay agree that “padjak” – also used in the Tausug dialect and written in Arabic characters in the 1878 contract – is defined as “lease.” It was the British North Borneo Co. which had wrongly used the word to refer to “cession.”
“We have historical records to show that the contract was for lease and not for cession,” Idjirani said.
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