By ABRAHAM I. DALAGAN
Member, Ruma Bissara
Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo
Regarding Sabah, it is my personal belief and opinion that the Kirams actually did what was practical [or wise] and appropriate in 1878 and 1962.
Without the written and signed Lease Agreement between Sultan Jamalul A’lam of Sulu and Baron de Overbeck of the British North Borneo Company, there would be no legal document to boot to even start discussing the claim.
And without the documented formal transfer by Sultan Esmail Kiram I of the Sultanate’s sovereignty [over the territory] to the Philippine government, the latter has no right to engage, much more interfere, in the discussion.
Without these two documents, no concrete evidence could be presented in court today when contesting the colonization of the territory by the British in 1946 and its subsequent inclusion into the Federation of Malaya in 1963.
And without these two documents, the Philippine government and the Sultanate of Sulu, together, could never ever build a strong case to lay claim on the territory and to vigorously pursue the same to this very day.
Sultan Jamalul A’lam who signed the 1878 contract lease and Sultan Esmail Kiram I the 1962 transfer of sovereignty were both from the House of Kiram, whose hold on the sultanate throne has never been interrupted since the reign of Sultan Jamalul Kiram I from 1823 to 1841. And, today, from amongst its members, it is Sultan Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram, the reigning 35th Sultan, who stands tall as rightful and legitimate.
All past and recent efforts coming from other royal houses in protesting or debunking what the House of Kiram did in 1878 and 1962 have proven inconsequential and futile. Neither Overbeck nor the British Crown has ever given credence to the pretenses of the Houses of Shakirullah, Aranan and Pulalon against that deed of 1878. And since 1962, no Philippine president has ever officially invited a non-Kiram sultan to Malacañan.
To put it succinctly, on or relating to the Sabah Claim, it is the House of Kiram that is recognized by the Philippine government, including the Philippine Congress, as legitimate.
It is the Kirams, therefore, that have a clear path already to tread on – a well-documented case to pursue [carrying its name], unlike any and all the other Sulu royal houses.
The latter, perhaps, can manage to put up their respective sultans [according to self-prescribed household taritibs or protocols] but must have to start from scratch [when laying claim on Sabah].
They may build their individual cases starting with the use of respective family tarsilas, purposely-made flags, certain fruit artifacts, gilded barongs or budjaks, supportive history books and, even, sworn affidavits. But these are material things that can never be presented or accepted in any court of justice as legal proofs to challenge the Kiram position regarding Sabah and to lay rival claims on it.
The Kirams, with the support of the Philippine government and the services of good lawyers, may have to use only those two documents in order to win [or benefit from] the case. This royal house does not even need to prove its legitimacy anymore. It only needs to assert it [and to speak about Sabah as one royal house].
Why was the Lease Agreement of 1878 practical and appropriate that time? And, for that matter, the 1962 transfer of authority that year?
Although, he died in 1881, Sultan Jamalul A’lam preempted with foresight the 1885 Madrid Protocol, under which agreement Spain “has relinquished all claim to Borneo.”
Now, with the Lease Agreement of 1878 legally in effect, it follows that Spain has no right whatsoever to claim Borneo (e.g., Sabah) and the document also proves that the Sultanate of Sulu has never ever submitted to, much more having been conquered by, the Spaniards.
[The same logic or import could have applied too with the 1898 Treaty of Paris, even if Sultan Jamalul Kiram II were to sign that treacherous Bates Treaty a year later in 1899 – Sabah has never been a sovereignty of Spain to be included in the US$20 Million cession money that Washington paid Madrid].
In 1962, the Sultanate of Sulu had no political power or sovereign status to block the inclusion of North Borneo into the Federation of Malaya. It had no standing army, no good lawyers of its own and no financial resources to stage a claim. And following the creation of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu in 1914 and the signing of the Kiram-Carpenter Agreement a year later, the Sultanate of Sulu [whilst retaining certain rights) has ceased to be a self-governing sovereign entity within the country. It preferred, with the majority of the people not protesting, the entire Sulu Archipelago and all previous dominions of the Sultanate of Sulu to become just a collective part of the Philippine Republic.
However, even in those rather chaotic scenes (especially, as regards Sabah), the Sultanate of Sulu up to the time has always been asserting its proprietary, legal and historical rights over Sabah.
Sultan Esmail Kiram I did what was right in saving the Sultanate of Sulu from losing Sabah [without protest and legal remedy] to peninsular Malaysians. The declaration he issued “ceded and transferred sovereignty over Sabah to the Philippines,” with the condition that the Sultanate of Sulu (i.e., the House of Kiram) can revoke the declaration if the Philippine government is unable to fulfill its task in claiming Sabah for the Philippines. ABRAHAM I. DALAGAN