Monday, 25 March 2013

The Sulu Sultanate And Sabah


The non-state endorsed Filipino intrusion on Sabah soil has elicited passionate response from the Malaysia nation. I’ve read many articles from both sides of Sulu Sea, both pro Malaysia and pro Philippines. Both have made their arguments, and not surprisingly, I’ve sided with the Malaysian side. Sabah is fully functioning state with sizable economic heft within the federation of Malaysia and has been that way for over 50 years. Do you really expect Malaysia to relinquish authority over Sabah for it to become a territory of the Philippines all over some questionable document signed hundreds of years ago?

You should know when you’ve been conquered. I offer this same advice to the Argentinians disputing the sovereignty of Falkland Islands. Claiming land belonging to another country politically impossible if it is populated with loyal citizens unless war is declared and victory won. Leave the conquests of the past in their rightful graves, I say, and move on.

The irony is that the predominantly Christian Philippine government is currently amidst a war of civilizations with its Muslim South but conveniently recognizes the claims of the descendants of a sultanate that the Philippine government itself abolished. Even if simply for appearance sake, that former Sulu sultanate should be elevated to head the whole Philippine state, so that their claims would be more credible. (And obviously I’m not a lawyer). Instead of another land grab, the government should focus on asserting full control over ALL of its nation.



One matter that irks me is the amateur cartographer who took the liberty of enlarging the extent of the Sulu Sultanate without regard for the realities of history. So I would like to present a picture that has been circulating around.

The Sultanate of Sulu was only established circa 1450 on the islands in the Sulu archipelago namely Jolo, Basilan and Tawi-tawi. These three island form the heartland of Sulu Empire where the Tausug peoples are associated with.

The eastern-most portion of the inaccurate map could not have covered those western parts of Mindanao Island because that would have been the territory of the powerful Maguindanao Sultanate, a rival fellow Muslim Moro kingdom. At this time Brunei’s empire covered most of northern and northeastern Borneo – including Sabah but not the interiors which remained in tribal hands – and Palawan even up to Cebu.

In second half the 17th century, a highly disputable agreement between the Sultanate of Brunei and Sulu took place which saw the Sulu gaining a bonanza purportedly as reward for helping Brunei suppress a rebellion. Their prize was North Borneo, islands like Banggi, Balambangan and Palawan and all of Brunei’s territories to the east. No documents ever existed to prove this, however since the relationship between Brunei and Sulu were on warring terms, the actual border between them is anybody’s guess. However, the Tausug people did have settlements in Eastern Sabah - Kudat, Semporna, Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Kota Kinabalu, Menggatal, Tuaran dan Telipok - and even in Eastern Kalimantan which suggests Sulu presence of some kind.

On 22 January 1878, an agreement was signed between the Sultanate of Sulu and British commercial syndicate (Alfred Dent and Baron von Overback), which stipulated that North Borneo was either ceded or leased (depending on translation used) to the British syndicate. (Wikipedia) In that treaty, the Sulu Sultan signs over assigns forever and in perpetuity all the rights to the territories from Pandasan River on the north-west coast and extending along the whole east coast as far as the Sibuku River in the south.

This is the first time since the Bruneian cessation that any demarcation of Sulu territory has been recorded. Sabah then was then known as North Borneo a British protectorate administered by the North Borneo Chartered Company. North Borneo was the amalgamation of territories appropriated from both the Brunei and Sulu Sultanates. Unlike the baseless propaganda maps from the net, I use this historical facts to draw my map. One small caveat though, I couldn’t pinpoint Sulu’s domain on the Zamboanga peninsula before it was captured by Spain, so it’s probably inaccurate.


The Tausugs were a tough bunch, after more than two centuries of Sulu resistance, the Spanish empire finally subjugated the Sulu Empire on July 2 1878 under Manila’s administration. When the Philippines was a US colony, they abolished the Sulu Sultanate upon the death of Sultan Jamalul Kiram II (1894-1936) in an attempt to create a Commonwealth of the Philippines, a precursor to the today’s Republic of the Philippines.

The former Sulu Sultanate is not unlike Kurdistan in the Middle East. The Tausug people like the Kurdish are a people divided by the deeds of European colonialists. Today they reside in separate countries and have no state to call their own. In Sabah, the Tausugs are known as Suluks but still share the same language. The huge influx of Muslim immigrants from the Philippines due primarily from unrest there in recent times comprise primarily Bajau, Tausug and Bugis peoples. They have also been involved in the notorious alleged Project IC where the Malaysian citizenships were given out in wanton in efforts to Islamize Sabah.

Sabah is more than just hectares or acres of land. Sabah is about Sabahans, the most ethnically diverse region in Malaysia. On 31 August 1963 North Borneo achieved independence but 16 days later in a UN brokered deal acceded to the Federation of Malaysia. How would you justify returning a democratically governed state to descendants of a former monarch based upon the ‘facts’ that the land used to ‘belong’ to them. The land belongs to the people, and I believe they have spoken.

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