The past few days, the Sabah Crisis has added a few slogans to our usual repertoire. The first slogan to describe the crisis is “stand off”. This means that there is a “deadlock” between the followers of the Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo, on the one hand, and the Malaysian security forces, on the other.

The call of the Malaysian Government and echoed by the Philippine Government to resolve the ‘stand off’ was for the ‘intruders’, that is, the Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate to surrender and they would be given free passage back to where they came from.


The Sultanate refused the offer to surrender with a call to dialogue or negotiation and instead asked: ‘who are the real intruders in Sabah?’.

The Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo claims that its Royal Security Forces are not an invading army and neither are they “intruders”. They are, merely, “coming home and that they have come in peace”.

Then came a new slogan that social media attributed to the former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohammad, that is, “flush the intruders with force”. It calls for a decisive move on the part of the Malaysian Security Forces notwithstanding the Philippine Government’s request for a policy of ‘maximum tolerance’.

The two colliding approaches reveal the type of perceptions of the so called ‘stand off’ between the Sultanate on the one hand and Malaysia and the Philippines on the other.

The Sultanate is approaching the issue from a perspective of ‘proprietary’ rights and there is NO debate on the issue since it is both a historical fact and a legal doctrine accepted by all.

On the other hand, Malaysia and the Philippine Government approach the issue from the perspective of ‘sovereignty rights’. The ‘intrusion’ of the Royal Forces of the Sultanate is taken as clear affront to the sovereignty of Malaysia over the said territory. To the Malaysian Government, Sabah falls under the sovereignty of Malaysia both ‘de facto’ (actual occupation and exercise of state powers therein) and by the ‘actual consent’ of the peoples of Sabah in a quasi referendum conducted prior to the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

When it comes to the ‘proprietary’ approach, the solution seems easy enough. It speaks only of two things. First is the ‘increase’ in the actual yearly rental or second, a ‘buy off’ often understood as final settlement as compensation for the entire North Borneo that has been part of the Sultanate of Sulu since it was ceded by the Sultan of Brunei in 1704.

In the past, there have been some talks of ‘final settlement’ of x million dollars to ‘compensate’ for the territory now effectively controlled by Malaysia. Other than talks, no real progress has been made since the territory was ‘ceded’ by the Sultanate to the Republic of the Philippines.

No doubt, the ‘stand off’ could have been approached from the perspective of the proprietary rights of the Sultanate beginning with the actual annual rentals. Given the inflation and fluctuation of currencies since 1878, the original 5,000 Ringgits are miniscule to the actual value of the property.

In the original lease, the Ringgit was used but there was a second currency also used in case of devaluation or inflation or depreciation of currencies, that was, the once famous Mexican Dollar. At the time of the transaction, one Ringgit was equivalent to one Mexican Dollar. The third measure used was its equivalent in gold. The approach would simply determine the cost of an ounce of gold in Ringgit in 1878 and the cost of an ounce of gold in Ringgit in 2013.

The sovereignty approach is a NO exit and a NON-ending ‘stand off’. This approach is either resolved by an international arbitration and there is no guarantee that the losing party would concede or by war. One is easily reminded that Europe fought two world wars on sovereignty issue. The same occurred with the Island of Malvidas or Falklands between Argentina and the UK.

Sovereignty is only resolved by collapsing the borders of the ‘nation states’ and in that way, the sovereignty issue becomes redundant. The European Union is now a model for ‘collapsing’ borders.

I believe that only by collapsing the tri-littoral borders between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines would we be able to lay final rest to the sovereignty question. The same is the real solution in our war against terrorism, smuggling and piracy in the Sulu-Sulawesi Trade Route – the real key for progress in the next ten years. In the same way, the three littoral countries can better preserve the environment, that is, the heart of the Coral Triangle which is at the heart of the survival of life in the planet earth.


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