International Court of Justice on Sabah

To all misguided Filipinos and Malaysians who keep on blabbering that the ICJ had already ruled against Sulu/the Philippines re Sabah, here are two articles written by Joseph G. Lariosa that they should read:

map sabah palawan

Obiter Dictum in ICJ  On Sabah Case May Save The Day for PH

JGL Eye Column


(© 2013 Fil Am Extra Exchange)

CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – If the 100 armed men holed up in the village in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah are really members of the “royal army” of the Sultanate of Sulu to claim a promised land, the Philippine government may appeal to them to lay down their arms and leave peacefully.

But the Philippine government should take advantage of the opportunity by assuring them of its help by reviewing its Sabah claim before the International Court of Justice.

If the armed men are Filipinos, that is only the second time that a group of Filipinos were trying to forcibly re-take Sabah from Malaysia. In 1968, it was reported that President Marcos was training a team of saboteurs on Corregidor to infiltrate Sabah but the attempt was aborted.

First of all, if the Philippines has the wherewithal to invade Sabah, there is no assurance of success just like the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba by the United States.

Secondly, when push comes to shove, in the dispute between the Philippines and Malaysia over Sabah, the United States has no option but to side with the Philippines because in 1906 and in 1920, and as late as July 10, 1946, less than a week after the Philippines was granted Independence by the U.S., the U.S. had reminded Great Britain, which had dominion over what would later become Malaysia that Sabah, earlier known as North Borneo, is not owned by Great Britain but by the Philippine Sultanate of Sulu.

And thirdly, when the International Court of Justice rejected the application of the Philippines to claim Sabah in 2001 to intervene in a dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia for possession of Sabah’s Pulau Sipadan and Pulau Ligitan, its ruling against the Philippines was a mere obiter dictum. In that dispute, the ICJ ruled in 2002 for Malaysia because of Malaysia’s effective occupation of Sabah. But Indonesia does not have a Sultanate of Sulu as its claimant, unlike the Philippines.

In legal parlance, an obiter dictum is merely a statement made by a judge in the course of his judgment, which may not precisely be a relevant issue before him. It has no binding authority. It is a by-product of the original judgment. It is merely a remark or opinion of the judge.


On the other hand, the same ruling is considered a “ratio decidendi” against Indonesia and for Malaysia as the ICJ applied the “rule of law” based on the facts of the case or applied the “rule, which the court regarded as governing the case.”

In other words, if the Philippines were to revive its case directly against Malaysia before the ICJ, if the ICJ will use “ratio decidendi,” not obiter dictum in its ruling, the Philippines can get a different ruling from Indonesia’s claim against Malaysia.

In “ratio decidendi,” the Philippines can invoke its own evidence and merits of its case, and if the court gives the Philippines its day in court, I believe, the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu and its “royal army” will no longer disturb the ruling and the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu will just cede peacfully Sabah to Malaysia if the Philippines gets an adverse ruling.

Without giving the Philippines its due process, the ICJ’s obiter dictum against the Philippines will not appease the heirs of Sultanate of Sulu and by extension the Philippine government.

That is why I agree with the stand taken by former University of the Philippines Professor Nur Misuari, head of the Moro National Liberation Front, urging the Philippine government to pursue its dormant claim to Sabah.

During negotiation before ICJ, it is going to be shown that the perpetual amount of lease now being paid by the Malaysian government to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu in the amount of 6,300 Malaysian ringgits (US$1,500 or 63,000 Philippine pesos) a year is really an insult, if not indolent. It is merely a drop in the bucket to the agreement signed in 2011 by Sabah government’s Petronas (Malaysian government oil and gas company) and Shell for a 30-year production sharing contract for enhanced oil recovery projects in offshore Sarawak and Sabah. According to a Petronas press release, “If (the deal is) realised, around 765 million barrels of oil reserves are expected to be recovered through the improvement to the recovery efficiency of the fields, translating into additional production of 90,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil per day.” It means a mouth-watering income of US$10-million to US$11.2-million a day at current oil price of US$112 per barrel.

Perhaps, the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu could argue before the ICJ that they may not be able to effectively occupy the whole state of Sabah but they are entitled to royalty to any oil and gas exploration as a form of rental payment.

I spoke to one of the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu, who just retired from her job from University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, who told me her relatives want to have a piece of the pie of the income from Sabah’s oil and natural resources before they come into an agreement. She also introduced to me to two of her brothers, who are also employed in the Midwest, when I met them in Chicago,Illinois, last year.


A ll the historical data point to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu as the owners of Sabah. Nobody disputes this.

Even the Chief Justice C.F.C. Macaskie of the High Court of North Borneo issued a ruling in 1939, saying the heirs of Sultan of Sulu are entitled to the “cession money,” following the death of Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram II in June 1936, who was childless. The propriety claimants (Dayang Dayang Hadji Piandao and eight other heirs) were awarded the “cession money” as proof of Sultan of Sulu’s ownership of the said property. The ruling was the basis of the payment of annual rental of Sabah amounting to 6,300 Malaysian ringgits per year (U.S.$1,500 or 63,000 Philippine pesos).

But what I dispute was the dismissive demeanor of Malaysia towards the Philippine claim that the dispute is a “non-issue” as there is no desire from the actual people of Sabah to be part of thePhilippines or of the Sutanate of Sulu.


Did the Malaysian government ever allow the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu to talk to their tenants in Sabah to find out their sentiments if they were really against the Sultanate by way of a referendum for the purpose? Did the Malaysian government allow the Sultanate air time in mass media in Sabah to explain to their tenants that because they are residing on a piece of land owned by a Filipino Sultanate of Sulu, they are supposed to pay rental directly to their landlord – the heirs to the Sultanate of Sulu – not to a third party or middleman such as the Malaysian government?

If I were the heirs to the Sultanate of Sulu while they are waiting for the ruling of the ICJ, I am not going to encash the 6,300 Malaysian ringgits to protest and humiliate the Malaysian government just as Fidel Castro refused and refuses to encash the US$2,000 annual rental payment of the U.S. to use the Guantanamo U.S. Base in order to humiliate the U.S. into giving up the perpetual rental under the Platt Amendment. By the way, even after the U.S. increased  the rental to the Guantanamo Naval Base to peg it to current inflation to US$14,000 annually, Cuba will still not encash the rental payment check.

Come to think of it, when the Philippines leased the Clark Air Base and Subic Base to the U.S., which account for 245 square miles land area, the U.S. was paying $200-M annual rental to the Philippine government. While Sabah, which has 28,430 square miles, or 116 times bigger than the U.S. Bases, the Malaysian government is only renting Sabah for a song! # # #

Editor’s Note: To contact the author, please e-mail him at: (


old map

Opinion  OP-ED  Joseph G. Lariosa 

ICJ Rules Out Malaysia’s Claim On Sabah

CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – F.B. Harrison is one of the major streets in Metro Manila but I wondered why. I only learned lately from a fellow Filipino cyberfriend, Jose Sison Luzadas, that when the Philippines’ seventh civilian American Gov. Francis Burton Harrison died in Flemington, New Jersey in 1957, he left a will that his remains be repatriated to the Philippines and be buried at the Manila North Cemetery in La Loma.

When he was no longer the U.S. Governor General, Harrison became an advisor to Philippine Vice President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Elpidio Quirino. He presented to Quirino on Feb. 27, 1947 a copy of the Sabah Lease Treaty document in Malay language written on Arabic script translated by American anthropologist H. Otley Beyer of the University of the Philippines. Austrian Baron von Overbeck and British lawyer Alfred Dent told the Royal Colonial Institute on May 12, 1885 that the agreement they obtained from the Sultan of Sulu on Jan. 22, 1878 was for the lease of North Borneo and did not forfeit the Sultan’s sovereign rights.

 On June 26, 1946, the British North Borneo Company entered into an agreement with the British Government, transferring its interests, powers and rights over to the British Crown to become State of North Borneo. It became a British colony. Harrison called this arrogant and baseless move as British “political aggression.” He advised the soon to become young Philippine Republic to take the matter up before the United Nations.

It caught the U.S. off-guard to protest the British violation of the 1907 Exchange of Notes between the U.S. and Great Britain and the subsequent Jan. 2, 1930 Convention. According to the International Court of Justice in a 2002 ruling in the dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia over the islands of Ligitan and Sipadan, the 1907 Exchange of Notes was “a temporary arrangement between Great Britain and the U.S. that did not involve a transfer of territorial sovereignty (but) merely provided for a continuation of the administration by the British North Borneo Company of the islands situated more than three marine leagues from the coast of North Borneo.”


In rejecting a conditional surrender of the Sultan of Sulu’s Royal Army, who want Malaysia to settle the Sabah dispute, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak ruled out any negotiation on the dispute “that has been determined legally as far back as 1878 and subsequently by the referendum conducted by the Cobbold Commission ahead of the formation of Malaysia.”

The Prime Minister might not have been told by his advisers that referendum for self-determination as far as Philippines’ claim to Sabah is concerned is out of the question.

Based on the Indonesia-Malaysia dispute, the ICJ ruled that “effectivities” and sentiments of the people in the area for self-determination will only be at play if parties in the dispute do not have “treaty-based title” to support their claim. Both Indonesia and Malaysia did not have any documentary evidence to show in their claims. So the court turned to “effectivities” in coming up with the decision in favor of Malaysia.

If the Philippines comes to ICJ, it will only be armed with the copies of the Lease Agreement of the Sultan of Sulu with Overbeck and the 1907 Exchange of Notes and the Jan. 2, 1930 Convention that ICJ had already ruled did not cause the transfer of sovereign rights from Spain to Great Britain. Malaysia would have the burden of overturning these evidence.

In its case before the ICJ, Malaysia said “it was successor to the Sultan of Sulu, the original title-holder to the disputed (Sabah) islands, further to a series of alleged transfers of that title to Spain, the United States, Great Britain on behalf of the State of North Borneo.” But the ICJ said this argument cannot stand.

After obtaining a lease treaty from the Sultan of Sulu, Overbeck relinquished his rights and interest over to Dent’s British North Borneo Company (BNBC).  Dent applied for a Royal Charter with United Kingdom on Dec. 2, 1878 based on the lease treaty signed away by the Sultan of Sulu on Jan. 22, 1878.

But in an official letter of Jan. 7, 1882, Earl Granville, then, head of the United Kingdom  Foreign Office, stated, “The British crown assumed no dominion or sovereignty over the territories occupied by British North Borneo Company, did not grant the company any powers of government and (it) recognized the delegation of powers by the Sultan of Sulu in whom sovereignty remained vested.”


So, when BNBC transferred its rights over to the UK on June 26, 1946, UK merely acquired powers delegated by the Sultan of Sulu, who retained sovereignty over the Territory.

In the Capitulation of July 22, 1878, Art. I of the Protocol, it declared as “beyond discussion the sovereignty of Spain over all the Archipelago of Sulu and the dependence thereof,” following Sulu’s conquest by Spain in June 1878.

The Sultan of Sulu revoked the lease of Jan. 22, 1878 and in September 1878, a Spanish warship attempted but failed to take control of North Borneo. This caused Great Britain to protest and a treaty among Great Britain, Germany and Spain was forged.

In the Protocol of March 7, 1885, under Art. III, the Spanish government “renounces as far as regards the British government, all claims of sovereignty over the territory of the continent of Borneo, which belong, or which have belonged in the past to the Sultan of Sulu (Jolo) and which comprise the neighboring islands … from the coast, and which form part of the territories administered by the company styled the British North Borneo Company.”

There was no logic on this protocol for Spain to renounce the property and sovereignty of the Sultan of Sulu in favor of the British. Spain did not get any incentive or tradeoff to give up the property and sovereignty of Sultan of Sulu’s Archipelago and Dependencies. When Spain signed the 1898 Peace Treaty with the U.S., the FilipinoKatipuneros aided by the U.S. beat Spain and Spain got $20-Million dollar to give up the Philippine and Sulu Archipelago, including North Borneo.

When the Sultan of Sulu gave up its property to Spain, it was by conquest. But in the Protocol of March 7, 1885, there was no reason for Spain to give up the Sultan of Sulu’s property to Great Britain because Britain did not beat Spain in any battle by conquest nor gave Spain money or anything of value in exchange of Sultan of Sulu’s property, including North Borneo.

That’s why when Spain signed the 1898 Treaty, the U.S. was able to keep the Sultan of Sulu’s Archipelago, including North Borneo, intact.

When the U.S. pressed for the Sultan’s property under the 1898 Treaty with Spain, Great Britain did not object but rather sought an arrangement with the U.S. that would ensure continuity of BNBC’s administration of the Sultan of Sulu’s North Borneo that resulted in the Exchange of Notes of July 3 and 10, 1907 and the Jan. 2, 1930 Convention. The  convention did not involve any transfer of sovereignty, according to ICJ. (


Fighting continues in Sabah

It’s been two weeks since the Malaysian police and army attacked the 200 or so men and women from the Sultanate of Sulu. The Malaysian and Philippine governments announced the “end of the standoff” and declared the surrender of ten of the Sulu Sultan’s men.

It’s been 10 days since the Malaysians carpet bombed Lahad Datu using fighter jets. The Malaysian police and military in Sabah were reinforced with seven battalions from Kuala Lumpur as they attacked the 200 0r so men and women accompanying the Rajah Muda of Sulu. The Malaysian government announced the “complete defeat” of the Sultan’s men.

Yet the Sultan’s men and women are still standing and fighting.

There is complete news blackout imposed by Malaysia. Foreign or local media are not allowed in Sabah.  And the Philippine government is totally submissive to the desires of the Malaysian government.

Sultan Jamal ul Kiram III
Sultan Jamal ul Kiram III



Noy aides rachet up damage control

As intense fighting erupted anew between followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, led by his brother Radja Muda Agbimmudin Kiram, and Malaysian forces in Sabah yesterday, resulting in deaths from the opposing sides, Malacañang aides have gone full blast on their damage control to save President Aquino’s hide from the many criticisms over his mishandling the Sabah crisis and not protecting the Filipinos in Sabah.

A Tribune source, who has links to the group of Radja Muda, said fighting erupted anew in Sempurna and Tanjung Bato areas between followers of the Kirams and Malaysian forces.

“War is still on in Sempurna and Tanjung Bato…many Malaysian security forces were killed while five on the RSA (Royal Sultanate Army) and four were wounded,” the source said.

The same source earlier told The Tribune about the influx of Tausug fighters to Sabah to fight along their clansmen now the subjects of intensified police and military operations by Malaysia.

“Crackdown by Malaysian forces is continuing,” the source said.

The source also denied reports that at least 55 followers of Radja Muda had been killed since the intensified operations were launched last March 1.

The source also relayed the Radja Muda’s group’s concern over the plight of innocent Filipinos being subjected by the crackdown.

There were reported abuses by Malaysian forces against Filipinos suspected of having links to the Kirams in Sabah.

At least 79 individuals have been rounded up since the crackdown started two weeks ago.

On the homefront, Aquino and his aides are  in an all-out-media campaign and are into damage control, full steam as well as their justification of diverting the issue to a conspiracy theory leading to the NBI action against the Kiram clan along with other individuals and to dismiss negative feedbacks of mishandling on the Sabah conflict resulting to almost 70 deaths of Filipinos.

These efforts by Malacañang were evident as the Presidential Communication Office brought one Cabinet secretary after the other into the daily press briefing to explain the Sabah incident in the Malacanang Press Center.

Aquino spokesman Edwin Lacierda defended their actions, claiming that their presence during the briefings  was not due to the highly negative feedback being received in Aquino and his aides’  handling of the crisis.

Lacierda said several Cabinet secretaries have been conducting their press briefings as well.

Social Services Secretary Dinky Soliman went to the Malacañang Press Center Wednesday to explain the situation in Tawi-tawi on  the food distribution to the deportees wherein she also admitted she has not been able to see the actual  situation there.

Then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima followed, Thursday  explaining that a group of the alleged Royal Sultanate Army was intercepted on board a boat crossing the border in going to Tawi-tawi, Sulu.
Soliman, not contented with the Wednesday press briefing, still conducted a media interview at her DSWD office yesterday,  according to Lacierda.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas who went to Sulu on Wednesday had his own media briefing, flooding the  media with the government’s campaign to justify that Aquino and his men are doing their jobs well in relation to the crisis.

“Secretary Mar Roxas also had a press briefing to also inform the public on the comprehensive efforts of government with respect to relief, with respect to protection, security, and also to the work of DSWD, as well as the offering sustainable livelihood to those who are displaced individuals who decide to remain here,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda explained the administration has not mishandled the situation even if some sectors such as the netizens showed disapproval by hacking the website of the office of the President.

“There is no reason to think that we have mishandled the situation. The online perception is that this has really no traction insofar as the greater social media is concerned,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda expressed confidence that the efforts made by the administration have been earning support from the public than with the Kiram clan.

“Sympathies of the people are clear: The Kiram family did an act. While they have a claim, the manner of doing it is wrong. The manner that they chose to pursue their claim is improper. And so that has always been our belief. The public sees the resolution. The sincerity of this government to pursue a peaceful resolution prior to March 1 when the violence started,” Lacierda said. “So we believe that we continue to inform the public. Now that the violence has erupted, what we would like to lay out is what the government is doing insofar as protecting our Filipinos is Sabah and those displaced individuals who have returned from Sabah; providing assistance to them and laying it all out for the public to know —that our main concern is for the 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda admitted that the Philippine embassy officials in Kuala Lumpur have still to await word from the Malaysian authorities to grant requests of full access to the Filipinos being detained in the custody of Sabah police officials.

“For those also who are currently detained in Sabah under the custody of Malaysian authorities, we continue to ask for consular access and, also, the reason the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia has people on the ground in Lahad Datu also,” Lacierda said.

Secretary de Lima said yesterday confirmed reports of the interception of two groups of armed men at  the vicinity of Omapoy Island, Tawi-Tawi while the second batch was seen at the vicinity of Andulingan Island, Tawi-Tawi crossing the border from Sabah, Malaysia.”
“So, with that development, the processes are now being undertaken by a composite team with the end view of filing the appropriate charges against them as soon as possible,” De Lima said.

The Tribune asked De Lima as to whether she has received the spot report of the apprehending team on the seas. which is standard operating procedure.

“The spot report is still there because there is no good communications. But the men in the ground sent a brief report on email. I told them there is a presscon today, although I know the facts when they were reporting that to us yesterday. But I have not seen anything in writing, so I asked for something to be emailed to me,” de Lima said.

De Lima added that “this may not yet been the official spot report, but since NBI men are there, PNP men are there, that’s easy to validate by the composite team if there is truth to this and we have no reason to believe otherwise. This is practically an official report—initial official report.”

De Lima said she also has no list of the alleged confiscated assorted firearms from the group whom the police claimed are members of the Royal Sultanate Army.

“No, I don’t have the list. What I know of is assorted firearms and other deadly weapons. We will know.  I think that will be included, if charges have been filed by the arresting officer,” she said.

“Well, if you remember what the President said on the first presscon. His appeal was  ‘lay down your arms, come home peacefully’. But it could not be that the state or the government will look blindly on the violations of laws,” De Lima said.

“Now, of course on the diplomatic modes and on the  negotiations there may be discussions in principle, theoretically, hypothetically, and everyone adheres to possibly resolve, something an incident as serious as this, can be resolved peacefully.

“But since there is a violation, and we look at the consequences, the seriousness and the gravity of the consequences, unintended or otherwise, then  government must act,” De Lima said.

She added that according to the reports reaching her, one of the groups was even wounded and attended by the law enforcers than to bring into the hospital for security reasons.

De Lima said the group would have to remain on the island which is being guarded by the composite team pending the filing of appropriate charges and the conduct of a preliminary investigation by the DoJ prosecutors under by De Lima.

“Okay, I would want to avoid specifying the charges at this point. What I can confirm which is quite obvious to everyone is the illegal possession of firearms because they were caught with or they were found with assorted weapons.

“And that, definitely, is punishable under our laws; and in fact, we have a Comelec  gun ban existing. So, it’s not only under the Revised Penal Code but also, under appropriate election laws, they can be charged immediately with the illegal possession of firearms and other deadly weapons. That’s clear.

De Lima said that because there are no pieces of evidence on her possession she preferred to rely on his enforcers on the area.
“And another set of offenses will be those that will be subjected to the regular preliminary investigation. But, since I don’t have the evidence, I don’t have the specific facts, I cannot as yet give you those charges because that might also be misinterpreted or misconstrued as prejudging them. So that will be judgment call of those on the ground.

As I have said, it’s a composite team — PNP-CIDG, NBI  —so they are now assessing, evaluating, and preparing the appropriate charges,” De Lima said.

By Paul Atienza and Mario J. Mallari

Sabah is part of Bangsa Moro homeland

With the news all about Sultan Jamal ul Kiram III’s men in a stand-off with Malaysian authorities in Sabah, here is an essay on Sabah and the Bangsa Moro by Hadji Datu Jamal Ashley Yahya Abbas.

FROM: THE SETTING SUN  [(c) Hadji Datu Jamal Ashley Yahya Abbas]

Sabah And The Bangsa Moro

All these news on TV, newspapers and online about Sabah and the Sultanate of Sulu’s claim made me organize my thoughts on Sabah.The first time I heard about Sabah, I was about 8 or 9 years old. I have two sisters and one brother who were born in Jolo. The older sister was named Alnahar Mobina Fatima and her godmother was Dayang Dayang Putli (Princess) Tarhata Kiram, who at that time was the Pangyan (Sultana) of Sulu. My mother said that Princess Tarhata promised her that if they’d get back Sabah, she would give her goddaughter a big piece of it.

Princess Tarhata Kiram holding my sister, Alnahar Mobina Fatima during my sister’s baptism (paggunting). At the center is Sultan Zein ul Abidin II and on his right is my mother, Sitti Rahma Yahya-Abbas
Princess Tarhata Kiram holding my sister, Alnahar Mobina Fatima during my sister’s baptism (paggunting). At the center is Sultan Zein ul Abidin II and to his right is my mother, Sitti Rahma Yahya-Abbas

Not long after hearing this from my mother, the news on TV and the papers was all about Sabah and the young Moros who were massacred in Corregidor Island near Manila. The incident is now known as the Jabidah Massacre.

It was the first time that I saw my brothers, who were student/youth leaders, on TV denouncing the government. One time, my eldest brother, Macapanton, Jr. came to the house to be interviewed by a TV crew. (He was then staying at UP.) While he was being interviewed, the phone rang. There was something wrong with the phone such that when somebody called, it would ring but even if somebody answered it, it continued to ring. The maids covered the phone with pillows to muffle the sound. When we watched the newscast in the evening, we could hear the phone ringing.

From then on, I got used to seeing my brothers, especially the eldest, on TV or read about them in the papers. Because of his anti-government stance, Macapanton, Jr was ordered arrested when Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus and again when Marcos declared Martial Law.

During Martial Law, Marcos recognized Mahakutah Kiram as the Sultan of Sulu. I was aghast that a Philippine president got to “choose” the Sultan of Sulu. I asked my mother who was the rightful Sulu sultan. She said that she had just spoken to Dayang dayang Putli Tarhata who told her to tell Jun (my eldest brother), who was then the Moro head of the Presidential Task Force for the Reconstruction and Development of Mindanao, to tell the government that Jamalul was the rightful Sultan, not Mahakuta. I don’t remember if she was referring to Jamal ul Kiram III or Jamal ul Abidin although I think she was referring to Kiram not Abidin. (But, as a teenager, I remember being proud that I shared the same name (Jamal) as two contending Sultans of Sulu, although I found it strange that people called them Jamalul (one word) instead of Jamal ul-Kiram and Jamal ul- Abidin. At that time, the name Jamal was not common in the Philippines or in the US, unlike now where every other African-American is named Jamal.)

My sister Bai Alnahar and her godmother Dayang dayang Putli Tarhata are long dead, but Sabah is still with Malaysia and the prospects of it going to the Kirams is slim.


While the Makaskie decision in 1939 clearly gives ownership of Sabah to the Kirams, the granting of Independence to the Philippines and to the Malay states and the formation of the Malaysian federation changed the rules of the game.

Before World War II, the Sultanate of Sulu was recognized by both the US and the UK. The Philippines was a mere territory of the US while North Borneo was a possession of the Sultanate leased to a British company.

I remember the stories my mother told us about Princess Tarhata. She said that when the young princess graduated from a US university, the American authorities gave a party in her honor in Malacanang. Tarhata delighted in telling my mother how the young military officers were trying to make a pass at her. She referred to the military officers as “guardia civil“.

After world war II, the world was turned upside down for the Sulu royals. The Philippines became a newly minted state with Sulu as a mere province. And North Borneo became a British colony and then became part of the newly minted state called Malaysia.

The non-autonomous Sulu sultanate became almost a non-entity and the Sulu royals became relics of a bygone age.


After World War II, the Western colonizers decided to grant their colonies “independence” and simply rule them indirectly by controlling their economies. The Philippines got its independence in 1946. Unbeknownst to the Sulu royals, or to anyone other than the English diplomats, England declared North Borneo a colony.  In his report to the Philippine Government, former Governor General Francis Burton Harrison (acting as Special Adviser on Foreign Affairs), recommended that the British  action “should be promptly repudiated by the Government,” as the British government did it “unilaterally and without special notice to the Sultanate of Sulu nor consideration of their legal rights.”

Meanwhile the sultanates in the Malay Peninsula got their independence in 1957 and formed the new state of Malaya. The Sulu royals promptly revoked the Lease Agreement of Sabah and demanded the return of Sabah.

In 1961, Datu/Sultan Ombra Amilbangsa, the husband of Pangyan Piandao, Sultana of Sulu, even filed a bill (House Bill No. 5682) in Congress (when he was a congressman) seeking the independence of Sulu. The Sama Datu realized the grim political reality Sulu was facing then.

In 1963, the British and peninsular Malaysians hastily formed Malaysia to be composed of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.

In the era of newly-minted nation-states, the non-autonomous Sultanate of Sulu has become obsolete. In desperation, the Sulu royals acknowledged its diminished status and asked the Philippine government to act in its behalf. They gave President Diosdado Macapagal a “special power of attorney”, as it were.

Macapagal was a friend of the Moros, being a classmate and “barkada” of the first Moro lawyers Sinsuat, Alonto, Pendatun and Abbas.

Macapagal promptly announced the country’s objection to the creation of Malaysia and sent a delegation to London. Later, Macapagal met with President Sukarno of Indonesia, who also objected to the creation of the Malysian nation-state, and Tungku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia.

They called on the United Nations to help settle the issue. The UN created an investigation team that would determine the preferences of the natives of Sarawak and Sabah. And the UN Mission reported that the natives preferred to be with Malaysia. Later on, Indonesia and the Philippines refused to recognize the results of the UN Mission on Borneo.

When Malaysia was formed, it signaled the end of the Sulu sultanate’ hold on Sabah.


According to my late brother Macapanton, Jr, the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar University was asked to give a fatwa (religious “legal” opinion based on Islamic doctrines) on Sabah. The Grand Mufti’s fatwa states that Sabah, being a state with Muslim people, cannot be given to the Philippines, which is predominantly Christian.

Thus, the only way for Sabah to be regained by the Sultanate of Sulu would be for Sulu to be independent or part of an independent Moro state.


President Ferdinand Marcos, unlike President Macapagal , believes in taking matters into his own hands. In 1967, Marcos hatched a plan to infiltrate Sabah with Army-trained Muslims from Sulu (including Tawi-Tawi and Basilan). It was called Operation Merdeka (Freedom). First part of the training was done in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi

For the second part of the training, the recruits were shipped off to Corregidor island, near Manila. When the young Moros learned what their mission was all about; i.e., to infiltrate Sabah and fight the Sabahans, they started having second thoughts about the mission.

Fighting their fellow Muslims did not seem to be palatable to the recruits. It seems like it came to a point where the leaders –  Project Leader Manuel Syquio  and Operations Officer Maj. Eduardo Abdul Latif Martelino were the ground leaders – decided that the case was hopeless. The young Moro recruits to the Jabidah Unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were massacred. It has never been determined how many died. Estimates range from 28 to 200.

Jibin Arula survived the massacre by pretending to be dead. He was wounded in the knee. He swam in the sea and held on to a piece of driftwood until some fishermen saw him and brought him to a nearby province, Cavite.

Naturally, Arula’s story hogged the headlines. What came to be known as the Jabidah Massacre has crystallized in the minds of the Moros, both young and old, that they have to do something if they still want to survive as a nation distinct from the Christian majority.

The seed of the Bangsa Moro revolution has been unwittingly planted by Marcos with the Jabidah Massacre.  And Sabah is part and parcel of that revolution because Sabah is the ultimate cause of the Jabidah Massacre and the Moros can take back Sabah if and only if there will be a Muslim Moro nation-state, in accordance with the fatwa and realpolitik.


Perhaps because of the fiasco that was Jabidah, Marcos decided to take full control of Mindanao. For the 1969 elections, he talked with the Christian leaders in Mindanao. He told them to run for political office – mayor, governor, etc., thereby challenging the Moro datus. He secretly promised them the three Gs – guns, goons and gold. Up to that time, the Christian settlers were content to be political followers, not leaders.

Ironically, our family campaigned vigorously for Marcos and his team. My brother-in-law was a senatorial candidate.  My mother went with Marcos’s mother all over the country to campaign. She brought Dona Josefa Marcos all over Mindanao, including Jolo, Sulu. At that time, Sulu was already considered a dangerous place. Even Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos did not campaign there. As a child, I joined my mother in her campaign sorties to Davao and Lanao.

And after the elections, all hell broke loose in Mindanao. The Christian political leaders won.  Shortly thereafter, Christian vigilante groups, secretly aided by the military, started attacking Moro villages, killing scores of Moros including women and children. The  llaga (Rats) movement was founded in Cotabato City by the newly elected Mayors Wenceslao de la Cerna of Alamada, Nicolas Dequina of Midsayap, Pacifico de la Cerna of Libungan, Bonifacio Tejada of Mlang, Conrado Lemana of Tulunan, Jose Escribano of Tacurong, Esteban Doruelo of Pigkawayan and PC Capt. Manuel Tronco of Upi. They called themselves the “Magnificent Seven.” Later, Lt. Col. Carlos B. Cajelo, also an Ilonggo, joined the group. He became Governor of Cotabato and later the Deputy Defense Minister for Civil Relations. He was believed to be the actual leader of the Ilagas. ILAGA is supposed to be an acronym for Ilonggo Land Grabbers Association.

The Ilagas went on a rampage in Mindanao, covertly supported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The Moros had to defend themselves. Armed groups known as Black Shirts, Baracudas, etc erupted everywhere in Mindanao. The Maguindanaon political families formed the PUSA (Cat) to fight the ILAGAS (Rats).

In the 1971 elections, more Christians came into political power led by Col. Cajelo . Cajelo was a newcomer in Cotabato. He went up against a very popular governor (Datumanong) who was supported by a very powerful traditional politician (Pendatun). But Marcos made sure that Cajelo won. And the Moros realized that there were now more Christian Filipinos than Moros in Moroland.

While the fighting in Mindanao raged, my mother’s cousin Congressman Rashid Lucman of the older generation and my eldest brother Macapanton Abbas, Jr. of the younger generation laid down the foundation for letting the world know of what was happening in Mindanao.

Working hand in hand, Lucman and Abbas, Jr. created several militant organizations like the National Coordinating Council for Islamic Affairs (NACCIA) and the Union of Islamic Forces (UIFO). They formed the Bangsa Moro Liberation Front (BMLF) and arranged with Tun Mustapha of Sabah the training of Moro revolutionaries.

My brothers Firdausi and Macapanton, Jr. published and edited the Dawat-ul-Islam newsletter in Manila. It reported the massacres happening in Mindanao so people in Manila, especially people of foreign embassies, are made aware of them.

My brother Macapanton, Jr brought the Bangsa Moro issue to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) when he submitted to then OIC head Tungku Abdul Rahman reports of Philippine atrocities against the Bangsa Moro people. The OIC took cognizance of the Bangsa Moro issue and Libya promised funding.

The training of the Moro revolutionaries was done in Sabah. The first batch of 90 trainees included Nur Misuari, Hashem Salamat and Abul Khayr Alonto.

But the Moro revolution was sabotaged from the beginning. The 90 trainees in Sabah, through the instigation of the Libyan Foreign Minister, proclaimed themselves the leaders of the Bangsa Moro revolution, calling their group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)

Fighting continued to rage in Mindanao. Arms came in from abroad, but only to those willing to support the MNLF. While not all fighters were MNLF, the Philippine media labeled all Moro groups fighting as MNLF.

Marcos sued for peace. The Tripoli Agreement was signed but never truly implemented.

In 1977,  Hashem Salamat and his clique wanted to form their own group and bolt out of the MNLF. Mohammad Natsir, former Prime Minister of Indonesia and Inamullah Khan of Pakistan tried to unite the Moro forces. A meeting was held in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization (BMLO) leaders Rashid Lucman, Salipada Pendatun and my brother Jun Abbas were there as well as Senator Domocao Alonto of the Ansar el Islam.  And so were Hashem Salamat and his lieutenants. The women sector delegation was led by Gov. Tarhata Alonto-Lucman and my sister Hadja Potri Zorayda Abbas-Tamano, the wife of Senator Tamano. Some of Misuari’s colleagues attended the meeting.

Fortunately for me, the Unity Meeting happened during school break (‘Id al Adha vacation) so I was able to attend it. Unfortunately, nothing came of that Unity meeting. In fact, a few months afterwards, Hashem Salamat bolted out of MNLF and formed his own group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Our cousin Ustaz Jamil Yahya was one of the co-founders of MILF.

The rest, they say, is history.


The end of the 20th-century Bangsa Moro revolution came with the death of the leaders. The father of the revolution, Rashid Lucman; the mentor of the revolution, C. Adib Majul; the spirit (spiritual head) of the revolution, Hashem Salamat and the brain of the revolution, Macapanton Abbas, Jr. are all dead. The internationally recognized “head” of the revolution, Nur Misuari is politically dead.

The Bangsa Moro revolution is over, for now. The Bangsa Moro territory has been reduced to a paltry size, with only 5 provinces, including one city – Marawi. The so called Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has been declared by the Supreme Court as non-autonomous. The Supreme Court stated: “Only administrative powers over local affairs are delegated to political subdivisions.” And ARMM is a mere political subdivision.

And so there is a need for Paradigm Change – from revolution to peace talks.


Since the revolution has failed, the prospect of getting Sabah has returned to the hands of the Sulu royals.

In 1989, Sultan Jamal ul Kiram III revoked the “Special Power of Attorney” the sultanate gave to the Philippine government. But he reiterated the Sultanate’s request to the Philippine government to bring up the Sabah issue to the United Nations and other international fora. My brother, Sultan Firdausi Abbas acted as the legal counsel for the Sulu Sultan.

But the response from the Malaysian and Philippine governments was lukewarm.


Sultan Jamal ul Kiram II
Sultan Jamal ul Kiram II

Ever since the death of Sultan Jamal ul Kiram II in the 1930s the Sulu royalty has been disunited.  Then, it was just divided between the so-called Maimbung and the Patikul factions.  Some people call the Maimbung faction as House of Kiram and the Patikul faction as House of Shakirullah. But that is a misnomer.  Dayang dayang Hadja Piandao of the Maimbung faction was the successor of Jamal-ul Kiram II but she was the daughter of Jamal ul Kiram’s brother Badr ud Din II while her rival Pangyan (Sultana) of the Patikul faction was Dayang Dayang Putli Tarhata who was the daughter of Ismail Kiram. Even the grandfather of Sultan Zein ul Abidin (aka Datu Tambuyong) of the Patikul faction was named Jamal ul Kiram. Sultan Jamal ul Kiram II died without issue, and therefore, technically speaking, there is no House of Kiram.

Today, there are at least a dozen pretenders to the throne, some of whom are fakes.  Most of the contenders claim descent from Jamal ul Azam, who leased Sabah to Baron von Overbeck.

It is important to remember that in the Sulu sultanate’s history, succession was never a matter of son inheriting from father. The 11th Sultan, Salah ud Din was followed by his son  Shahab ud Din, who was succeeded by Shahab ud Din’s brother Shafi ud Din, followed by another brother, Badr ud Din. Badr was succeeded by his nephew Nasr ud Din, son of Shahab. Nasr was succeeded by his cousin Azim ud Din I, son of Badr.

Azim ud Din I reigned in the 18th century. He is known in Philippine history as Alimuddin, the first Christian Sultan of Sulu, which is really an historical joke. Azim  ud Din I reigned from 1735-1748. He went to Manila to ask support from the Spaniards against the Taosug datus. Instead, the Spaniards held him hostage for 14 years at Intramuros. It was only when the British invaded Manila that he was able to return to Sulu. His nephew abdicated in his favor. He ruled Sulu for 10 more years.

All the succeeding sultans were descendants of Azim ud Din I. Naturally, most of the pretenders to the Sultanate descended from him.


In 1939, the heirs of Jamal ul Kiram II asked the High Court of North Borneo who were the heirs of the Sulu Sultan Jamal ul Kiram II, who died without issue. They wanted to know who the owners of Sabah were. Was it Great Britain or the Sulu Sultan’s heirs.  Chief Justice CFC Makaskie of the High Court of North Borneo ruled in favor of the petitioners led by the two celebrated Sulu princesses, Dayang dayang Hadja Piandao and Dayang Dayang Putli Tarhata.

And since in this day and age, the power of written “legal” documents is acknowledged by most of the world, the Makaskie decision is very important.  The claim of the Sultanate must therefore rely heavily on this, plus the Taosug version of the Deed of 1878 or the lease of Sabah to Baron von Overbeck.

Philippines believe in the rule of Force. Marcos tried the Jabidah route. Then he tried an all-out war against the Moros. President Joseph Estrada tried an all-out war against the MILF.  But Malaysia believes in the rule of law. It is much easier to negotiate with Malaysians.


It is imperative that the Sulu royals get their act together. They should have a united Ruma Bechara (Council of Elders). They don’t have to proclaim one Sultan. They can create a “Council of Rulers” or whatever. But it is important that they show a unified front to the Malaysians.

The Malaysians will never negotiate with just one person claiming to be Sultan. At the very least, they  will negotiate with a group representing ALL the descendants of the heirs named in the so-called Makaskie decision of 1939.

And this is the most important part. They should list down their negotiating points. It is important that they think not only of themselves but also of future generations; and not only of their own progeny, but the future of all Taosugs, of all Bangsa Moro. For this reason, they need the advice of Moro intellectuals and experts on various fields.

They must set up ways to insure that the history of Sulu Sultanate will not be forgotten and the dignity of the Sulu royals will not be trampled upon. There must be investment schemes to insure the prosperity of the Sulu royals and the whole Bangsa Moro for today’s as well as for future generations.

They will have to give up their claim of sovereignty to the Malaysian government but they should get due compensation – not just for themselves but for the whole Bangsa Moro as well. This way, the Bangsa Moro people, including the armed groups would support them.

The royals can then lobby through the OIC and through friends in KL.

It is best to leave the Philippine government alone. This should be between the Moros and the Malaysians.

With Malaysia brimming with wealth, this is the right time to negotiate. But Sabah is not just an issue concerning the Sulu royals. It has been part of the Bangsa Moro revolution. The Malaysians are astute enough to realize that any meaningful resolution to the Sabah issue should include the support of the Bangsa Moro people as a whole.


POSTSCRIPT (March 8, 2013):

After the events in Lahad Datu and the pronouncements of the Malaysian Prime Minister and Philippine President, it is obvious that a deal had already been made between them concerning Sabah with the probable collusion, wittingly or unwittingly, of the MILF. But the seemingly very brave Najib Razak must realize that Aquino cannot sell Sabah. The real owners of Sabah will, sooner or later, get it back because international laws are on their side.

It is thus imperative that the Sabah issue will be put back within the Bangsa Moro issue. If MNLF or MILF claim to be representatives of the Bangsa Moro, then they should include Sabah in whatever peace talks they make with the Philippine government. Otherwise, they would just be representing themselves and not the Bangsa Moro people.

Clearly, in the Sabah issue, the fault lies on USA when it gave Mindanao and Sulu to the Filipinos in 1946 when it gave the Philippine Archipelago its INDEPENDENCE, with Manila getting the centralized power.

From the 1600s, Sulu governed and OWNED Sabah until 1946. On July 4 , 1946 America included Sulu in the new Philippine Republic with Sulu relegated to being a mere province. Just 4 days after the grant of Philippine independence, England declared North Borneo or Sabah as its COLONY.

And in 1963, England maneuvered that Sabah be included in a new country to be called MALAYSIA.

Because Sulu is not an independent country, it cannot complain to the International Court of Justice. Thus, the Sultanate was forced to transfer its sovereign rights to Philippine Republic. Unfortunately, the republic could not get back Sabah because England refused to allow it and the UN could not move contrary to the wishes of England which was a huge power at that time.

Fortunately, the Sultanate revoked the transfer in 1989 because of the Philippines’ inaction and the attempt of President Cory Aquino to drop the Sabah claim.

All the troubles of the Bangsa Moro have its roots in the establishment of the Republic of the Philippines, which included Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan or Moroland..All of a sudden, with a mere stroke of the pen, the proud sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao, the Rajahnate of Buayan and the Ranao Confederation became mere provinces in a nation-state called the Philippines with all the powers controlled by Imperial Manila.

The world had turned upside down for the Moros. The Indios or Naturales who were subjugated by the Spaniards for some 350 years had become, all of a sudden, the Masters of the Islands while the Moros, unconquered by the Spaniards for 350 years, became second-class citizens in a poor country ruled by the former subjects of the Spanish monarchs.

If the Moros want to have a decent life, their only choice is crystal-clear.


Related post:   WHO OWNS SABAH?


Combined US FBI and Philippine police agents arrested 4 people – all Christian Filipinos – with an alleged link to a supposedly terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah (J.I.) of Indonesia, for hacking the American telecommunication giant, AT&T.

Anonymous Hackers

As usual with this terror-related stories spun by the US, the four young Christian Filipino “hacker-terrorists”  are involved in a sinister international web of terrorist organizations.  The Filipino group is allegedly being financed by a “Saudi-based terrorist group and that these young computer wizards are being paid by alleged terrorist Muhammad Zamir.

Zamir is a Pakistani who is allegedly with the Indonesian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah. Zamir was reportedly arrested in Italy in 2007 yet he was also said to be responsible for the funding of operations for the Mumbai bombing in 2008. And now, Nov. 2011, the American FBI and Filipino police arrested 4 Filipinos and accused them of being paid by Zamir, who was arrested by the FBI FOUR YEARS ago.

Really, Mr. Zamir must have a lot of money. Strange, though. He has been arrested in 2007 for financing terror operations yet his bank accounts had not been frozen such that he is still free to fund bombing operations from Mumbai to Manila?!

Doesn’t really makes sense. But at least, these are NOT, repeat, NOT Muslims or Moros. Ooops, what does that make of the PROFILING system of the CIA/FBI?

As was discussed in the Republican presidential debates  on Nov. 23 and supported by all the presidential candidates except for Ron Paul, according to CIA profiling, terrorists are usually “young Muslims”.

Really, those who believe in the terror stories of the CIA and FBI and Philippine police / military could only be children or adults with childlike intelligence who are fascinated with James Bond-like stories.

The complete story is below:


“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” PNP – Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) News Release Authority : ATTY SAMUEL D PAGDILAO JR

Police Director, Director CIDG

Camp Crame, Quezon City

*Tel.: 09178888874 / Fax: (02) 705-1526 *Date *Thursday, November 24, 2011 *CIDG-FBI bust Manila hackers group link to JI terrorists*

Joint operatives from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have busted a group of Filipino hackers whose operation is allegedly being financed by a Saudi-based terrorist group.

CIDG director, Police Director Samuel D Pagdilao Jr. said that last night’s operation stemmed from the complaint of AT&T, a US-based telecommunication company and the FBI regarding the activities of Filipino hackers who hacked the system of AT&T. The hacking activity resulted to almost $2-million in losses incurred by the company.

Pagdilao said that armed with several search warrants, members of the CIDG’s Anti-Transnational and Cyber Crime Division (ATCCD) and FBI agents struck at several target areas in Metro Manila last night that resulted in the arrests of four suspects and the confiscation of computer and telecommunication equipment believed to be used by the suspects in their hacking activities.

ATCCD chief, Police Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa identified the arrested suspects as Macnell Gracilla, 31, a native of Carmen Rosales, Pangasinan and resident of Unit 5, Montiville Place, Greenville Subdivision, Sauyo, Quezon City; Francisco Manalac, 25, and his live-in partner Regina Balura, 21, both of # 89 Sampaguita Extension, East Bagong Barrio, Calooocan City, and Paul Michael Kwan, 29, of # 21 Hebrew St., West Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City.

Sosa added that prior to last night’s arrest of Kwan, the suspect has been arrested in 2007 by Philippine authorities following the international crackdown launched by the FBI against suspected terrorist cells involved in financing terrorist activities.

Sosa said that FBI agents who have been investigating incessant hacking of telecommunication companies in the US and in the country since 1999 have uncovered paper trail of various bank transactions linking the local hackers to the Saudi-based cell whose activities include financing terrorist activities.

Sosa said that in 2007, FBI operatives have arrested Pakistani Jemaah Islamiyah member Muhammad Zamir in Italy. Zamir’s group, who was later tagged by the FBI to be the financial source of the terrorist attack in Mubai, India in November 26, 2008, is also the same group that paid Kwan’s group of hackers in Manila.

Sosa said that Kwan and the other hackers in Manila were being used by the Zamir’s terrorists group to hack the trunk-line (PBX) of different telecommunication companies including the AT&T. Revenues derived from the hacking activities of the Filipino-based hackers were diverted to the account of the terrorists, who paid the Filipino hackers on a commission basis via local banks.

After Zamir’s arrest in 2007, a Saudi-national took helm of the operation of the group, who also maintained its link with the group of Filipino hackers based in Manila.

On March 2011, FBI authorities requested the CIDG-ATCCD assistance after they found out that the group has targeted the AT&T in the US and that the same group of Filipino hackers is involved.

Pagdilao said that the recent arrest of Filipino hackers tied to a group involved in financing terrorist activities should serve as a wake-up call to legislators to speed-up the passage of the Cyber Crime Prevention Bill now pending in Congress in order to address proactively the threat of cyber crime terrorists who have made the country their base of operations.

MILF’s Umbra Kato on YouTube

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Commander Umbra Kato is alleged by the government to be a “lost command” of the MILF and is being relentlessly pursued by the Philippine military.

In this video interview done on Sept. 23, 2008, Kato, who says he’s the Commanding officer of MILF’s 105th commans, insists that he is not a “lost command” and challenges the people who says he is to texplain or define what is “lost command.”

On July 1 of this year, he says, the soldiers invaded his colleagues who are “living silently in their own place”. He says that his friends simply fought back.

He accuses the military of terrorism, saying that driving people out of their place is a terrorist act. He says that they had to fight back because they have nowhere else to go. If they go to Luzon or Visayas (the other islands in the archipelago), the people of Luzon and Visayas would be angrier as they would not want them (Kato et al) to claim their lands.

Here, Kato is alluding to the basic cause of the conflict – the people of Luzon and Visayas have occupied Mindanao and now claims it for themselves.

The interviewer asked Kato why the government put a price on his head – 10 million pesos.

Kato answered that it is an indication that the government has already run out of tactics to employ against him. They (the military) used air strikes, artiller, ground forces with heavy weapons and armored vehicles. “But we are still here,” he says.

Putting a bounty on somebody’s head is an old tactic used by the “enemies of Islam”, Kato says. He explained that even the enemies of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) had put a bounty on the prophets head worth say, 100 camels.

When asked why the conflict escalated to other parts of Maguindanao, Kato answered that he thinks it has been the plan of President Arroyo to start trouble in Mindanao to justify the non-signing of the MOA.