Does Sabah really belong to the Philippines?
On March 25, 1963, Senator Lorenzo Sumulong delivered a privileged speech berating the Philippines claim to North Borneo (Sabah), which had been filed by President Diosdado Macapagal on June 22, 1962. Five days later, Senator Jovito R. Salonga delivered a point-by-point rebuttal to Sumulong’s speech.
Below are the full text of Sumulong’s speech and Salonga’s reply. We leave it to our readers to judge the merits of the case as presented by the senators 50 years ago.
Excerpts from the speech of Salonga are also reprinted in the Philippine Daily Inquirer in its March 5, 2013 issue in a bid to shed light on the Sabah conflict.
Here is the full text of Senator Salonga’s rebuttal speech delivered on March 30, 1963, which was broadcast over radio and television and published in The Manila Times on March 31, April 1-2, 1963.
A few days ago, Senator Lorenzo Sumulong spoke on the floor of the Senate to air his views on the Philippines claim to North Borneo. My first reaction was to keep my peace and observe this shocking spectacle in silence, particularly in the light of the request of the British panel during the London Conference that the documents and the records of the proceedings be considered confidential, until they could be declassified in the normal course of diplomatic procedure. In part, my reaction was dictated by the belief, so aptly expressed elsewhere, that the best way to answer a bad argument is to let it go on and that silence is the “unbearable repartee.”
But silence could be tortured out of context and construed by others, not familiar with the facts, as an implied admission of the weakness of the Philippine stand. And so, I decided to make this reply, fully aware that in an exchange such as this, considering that our claim is still pending and each side is feeling out the other’s legal position, none but our British friends and their successors may well profit.
The good Senator, whose patriotism I do not propose to impugn, has had access to the confidential records and documents of the Department of Foreign Affairs. By his own admission, he attended closed-door hearings of the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations and National Defense, where crucial matters of national survival and security were taken up. He knows the classified, confidential nature of the records and documents bearing on the Philippine claim.
Senator Sumulong has now found it proper and imperative, if we take him literally, to ventilate his views berating the merit and validity of the Republic’s claim, accusing his own Government of gross ignorance and holding in unbelievable disdain the Philippine position on the British-sponsored Malaysia plan. He has chosen to assault the Philippine position at a time when his own Government, by virtue of the British request, may be said to be somewhat helpless in making, right in our own country, an adequate, fully-documented defense of the Philippine stand. I trust our British friends, here and across the seas, will understand if, in defense of our position, we come pretty close to the area of danger.
The good Senator tells us that in view of the “importance and magnitude” of the subject, he decided to wait “until all the relevant facts and information” were in, that he had made his own “studies and researches,” which on the basis of the press releases issued by his office, must have been quite massive. The morning papers last Monday (March 25) quoted the Senator as having bewailed, in advance of his privilege speech, that “only one side of the problem has been presented so far,” (meaning the Philippine side) seemingly unaware, despite the depth and range of his studies, that in the world press, only the British side has been given the benefit of full and favorable publicity and that the Philippine side has been summarily dismissed, just as the Senator dismisses it now with apparent contempt, as “shadowy”, “dubious” and “flimsy.” It may interest the good Senator to know that his statements, particularly on the eve of the talks in London, consistently derogatory of the Philippine claim, were seized upon by the English press with great delight, as if to show to the Philippine panel how well-informed the Senator was. It is, of course, not the fault of the Senator that the British, in an admirable show of unity, enjoyed and were immensely fascinated by his press releases and statements.
But before I take up the Senator’s arguments in detail, it may be well to set our frame of reference by restating the position of the Philippine Government on the North Borneo claim.
Thousands of years ago, what is now known as the Philippines and what is known today as Borneo used to constitute a single historical, cultural, economic unit. Authoritative Western scientists have traced the land bridges that connected these two places. The inhabitants of the Philippines and Borneo come from the same racial stock, they have the same color, they have or used to have similar customs and traditions. Borneo is only 18 miles away from us today.
North Borneo, formerly known as Sabah, was originally ruled by the Sultan of Brunei. In 1704, in gratitude for help extended to him by the Sultan of Sulu in suppressing a revolt, the Sultan of Brunei ceded North Borneo to the Sulu Sultan.
Here, our claim really begins. Over the years, the various European countries, including Britain, Spain and the Netherlands acknowledged the Sultan of Sulu as the sovereign ruler of North Borneo. They entered into various treaty arrangements with him.
In 1878, a keen Austrian adventurer, by the name of Baron de Overbeck, having known that the Sultan of Sulu was facing a life-and-death struggle with the Spanish forces in the Sulu Archipelago, went to Sulu, took advantage of the situation and persuaded the Sultan of Sulu to lease to him, in consideration of a yearly rental of Malayan $ 5,000 (roughly equivalent to a meager US $ 1,600), the territory now in question. The contract of lease — and I call it so on the basis of British documents and records that cannot be disputed here or abroad — contains a technical description of the territory in terms of natural boundaries, thus:
“…all the territories and lands being tributary to us on the mainland of the island of Borneo commencing from the Pandassan River on the NW coast and extending along the whole east coast as far as the Sibuco River in the South and comprising among others the States of Peitan, Sugut, Bangaya, Labuk, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Muniang and all the other territories and states to the southward thereof bordering on Darvel Bay and as far as the Sibuco River with all the islands within 3 marine leagues of the coast.”
Overbeck later sold out all his rights under the contract to Alfred Dent, an English merchant, who established a provisional association and later a Company, known as the British North Borneo Company, which assumed all the rights and obligations under the 1878 contract. This Company was awarded a Royal Charter in 1881. A protest against the grant of the charter was lodged by the Spanish and the Dutch Governments and in reply, the British Government clarified its position and stated in unmistakable language that “sovereignty remains with the Sultan of Sulu” and that the Company was merely an administering authority.
In 1946, the British North Borneo Company transferred all its rights and obligations to the British Crown. The Crown, on July 10, 1946 — just six days after Philippine independence — asserted full sovereign rights over North Borneo, as of that date. Shortly thereafter former American Governor General Harrison, then Special Adviser to the Philippine Government on Foreign Affairs, denounced the Cession Order as a unilateral act in violation of legal rights. In 1950, Congressman Macapagal — along with Congressmen Arsenio Lacson and Arturo Tolentino — sponsored a resolution urging the formal institution of the claim to North Borneo. Prolonged studies were in the meanwhile undertaken and in 1962 the House of Representatives, in rare unanimity, passed a resolution urging the President of the Philippines to recover North Borneo consistent with international law and procedure. Acting on this unanimous resolution and having acquired all the rights and interests of the Sultanate of Sulu, the Republic of the Philippines, through the President, filed the claim to North Borneo.
Our claim is mainly based on the following propositions: that Overbeck and Dent, not being sovereign entities nor representing sovereign entities, could not and did not acquire dominion and sovereignty over North Borneo; that on the basis of authoritative British and Spanish documents, the British North Borneo Company, a private trading concern to whom Dent transferred his rights, did not and could not acquire dominion and sovereignty over North Borneo; that their rights were as those indicated in the basic contract, namely, that of a lessee and a mere delegate; that in accordance with established precedents in International Law, the assertion of sovereign rights by the British Crown in 1946, in complete disregard of the contract of 1878 and their solemn commitments, did not and cannot produce legal results in the form of a new tide.
I shall not, for the moment, take issue with the Senator as to his statement of the problem sought to be solved either through the Malaysia plan or the Greater Malayan Confederation. Our commitments under the United Nations Charter, the Bandung Conference Declaration and the 1960 decolonization resolution of the General Assembly are matters of record and there is no quarrel about them.
Let us deal now with Senator Sumulong’s analysis of the “relevant facts”. He begins by saying that “since the organization of the United Nations in 1945, Britain in accordance with the obligations imposed by the Charter has declared herself to be the colonial power administering North Borneo as a British colony”. There is something misleading in this naked assertion. The good Senator could have informed the people, having proclaimed knowledge of all the relevant facts, that the British Crown never considered North Borneo as British territory, nor the North Borneans as British subjects, until July 10, 1946 — six days after the Philippines became independent. He may well have asked himself, “Why July 10, 1946?” and thereafter report to the Senate and to the people he loves so well the results of his new inquiry.
Then, with the air of a magistrate delivering a stinging rebuke, he asks: “Why was the Philippine claim of sovereignty to North Borneo so tardily presented in the United Nations?” Yet, in the next breath, the good Senator reassures everyone that “I am and have been in favor of our government giving every possible support to the proprietary claims of the heirs of the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram.” Now, let us examine these interesting assertions a little more closely.
(1) If the Senator believes that the claim of sovereignty was so “tardily presented”, how could the proprietary claim of dominion or ownership — which is the main element of sovereignty — regardless of whether it is the Philippine Government or not that institutes the claim — be considered still seasonable and appropriate?
(2) If the Senator suggests now that the proprietary claim is not yet tardy and that the Government should merely support, “the heirs of the Sultan” in this aspect of the claim, how can he turn around and say that it is late if it is the Government that is instituting the claim? Be it noted that the Philippine claim includes sovereignty and dominion over North Borneo.
(3) But what arouses my curiosity is the bald statement of the Senator that he is and has always been in favor of supporting the proprietary claims of the “heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.” Well, that must have been quite a long time! The Senator cannot therefore blame us, since he has invited and provoked the inquiry, if we now file a bill of particulars. Did he really support the proprietary aspect of the claim since he first became a member of the House of Representatives and assumed the Chairmanship of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs? Probably he did not give much thought to it then. But certainly he must have heard of the Macapagal-Lacson-Tolentino resolution of 1950. Did he give it in the Senate active and real support, even in its proprietary aspects? He has been a member of that distinguished body for more than 12 years — when, how and in what form, (even through a proposed amendment so as to fit his thinking) did he give that support? The cold, lifeless records of Congress yield no evidence of what he now eloquently professes.
The distinguished Senator makes a most interesting suggestion. He tells his colleagues in the Senate and the Filipino people that “the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu” should have gone to the United Nations, presumably to the International Court of Justice, so that if the said heirs lose their case, “there would be no loss of honor or prestige for the Republic of the Philippines.” I would commend to the good Senator a closer reading of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, in relation to Chapter 14 of the United Nations Charter. Undoubtedly, he must have known that “the heirs of the Sultan” could not possibly litigate before the International Court of Justice for the simple reason that they have no international legal personality. They do not constitute a State, as that term is understood in law. Chapter 2, Article 34, paragraph 1 of the Statute clearly provides: “Only States may be parties in cases before the Court.”
The same thing may well be said of his suggestion that the heirs file a reservation or a petition before the United Nations. And were we to follow the logic of the good Senator, we might conclude that America, Britain, France, the Netherlands and other countries have no more prestige and honor to keep since they have, as a matter of cold fact, lost quite a number of cases before international bodies and tribunals. But, of course, the conclusion is wrong. For respect for the rule of law has never meant and should never mean loss of honor and prestige.
Then, the good Senator tells us that “contrary to the impression created in the minds of our people, the claim of sovereignty put forward by our Government as transferee of the Sultan of Sulu does not cover the entire area of North Borneo but only a portion thereof.” I do not know who created this impression, or whether the Senator has had a hand in it, through his own statements. However, the scope of our claim is clear: we are claiming these portions of North Borneo which were leased, as clearly defined and described in the contract of 1878 and which are still under the de facto control and administration of the British Crown. But the good Senator would like to know what are the “exact metes and bounds” and gloats over the seeming inability of the people in the Foreign Affairs Department to tell him what are the exact boundaries. International law, it may be well to remind our good Senator, does not require exact, rigid definition of a territory by metes and bounds. In the language of international law authorities of the highest repute, “rigidly fixed boundaries are not indispensable and boundaries of a territory may be indicated by natural signs, such as rivers, mountains, deserts, forests and the like.” (See, for example the decision of the German-Polish Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, August 1,1929). Up to now, ancient nations, such as India and China, are still quarreling about their boundaries. In other words, Senator Sumulong is exacting of his own government more than what International Law requires of us. But no matter. The lease contract of 1878 tells us in specific terms the natural boundaries and I do not think Senator Sumulong can improve on it. Nor can the British, if we consider as correct the conclusions of reputable writers abroad that the dividing boundary lines between the Borneo territories are neither fully-surveyed nor well-defined (See, for example, North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak, Country Survey Series, New Haven, 1956).
It may be well for us, on such a delicate matter as this, to refrain from accusing our own Government of ignorance, partly out of simple discretion and partly because the real difference between most of us is that we are ignorant on different subjects — it may be the best thing indeed not to talk about each other’s ignorance.
Incidentally, the good Senator cites Professor Tregonning of the University of Singapore, who wrote a book on the subject, “Under Chartered Company Rule” to support his own — not Tregonning’s — conclusion that Overbeck and Dent — the two adventurers whose exploits the good Senator carefully avoided mentioning — “evaluated the rights acquired from the Sultan of Brunei to be 3 times greater than the rights acquired from the Sultan of Sulu, the yearly payment to the former being Malayan $ 15,000 and to the latter Malayan $ 5,000.” His conclusion is not supported by the authority he cites. Let me quote from Tregonning himself:
“This meager rental (of Malayan $ 15,000 paid to the Sultan of Brunei) reflects the state of affairs. The territory had long ceased to be under Brunei control and failed to bring in any revenue. The Sultan received Malayan $ 15,000 for nothing and he was well pleased.” (p. 14).
Likewise, in reading Tregonning, the good Senator avoided telling the people that the history professor he cited characterized the yearly payment of Malayan $ 5,000 to the Sultan of Sulu as “annual rental” (p. 14), that the British Colonial Office objected strenuously to the grant of the Royal Charter to the British North Borneo Company, “considering that no private company should exercise sovereign rights” (p. 20) and that the highest British officials were reassuring one another that the Royal Charter awarded to the British North Borneo Company did not vest the sovereignty of the territory in the British Government (at pp. 27-29).
Assuming that we fail to recover North Borneo, the good Senator insists that “we would appear as attempting to colonize North Borneo without any lawful or just cause.” How can Senator Sumulong damn his own country as a colonizer when it is precisely submitting its claim, based on historic and legal considerations, in accordance with the peaceful procedures indicated in the United Nations Charter? How can he, on the other hand, have nothing but praise for Malaya which, without any claim at all and virtually a stranger in the region, desires to take over — thanks to British support — the Bornean territories?
Like the isolationists of old, Senator Sumulong asks us: What is the gain of involving ourselves in North Borneo, if after all, even if we recover it, we are committed to the idea of letting the North Borneans determine what their eventual fate would be? It is like asking a man what is the use of working if after all he would eventually fade away — and leave his properties to his kin. One of the rosiest chapters in our entire history as a people was written when we dispatched our young men to Korea to fight for the cause of freedom in that part of the world. I don’t remember Senator Sumulong having raised the question, “What’s the use of it all?” The good Senator seems to forget that what happens in North Borneo affects us with greater immediacy and impact because of its proximity to us, that the North Borneans come from the same racial stock, that years of political isolation and hostile propaganda have created a gap between our two peoples, that despite the proud assertion that British interests have administered North Borneo for many years, the British, by their own admission, have not prepared the Borneans for self-government, that the natives are backward, that they are under the economic, cultural and political domination of the Chinese and that according to the British-prepared Report (Cobbold) there exists in North Borneo “fertile material on which Communist infiltration could work in the same way as it is already working in Sarawak.” The Communist danger, the Cobbold Report states, “cannot be excluded for the future.” (p. 36).
Senator Sumulong is all praise for the success and the leadership of the Tungku of Malaya and from these coupled with “British military and economic aid”, he jumps to the conclusion that “the enlarged Federation of Malaysia under the same leadership and with continued British military and economic aid will be able to meet and overcome any communist attempt to capture Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo.” But anyone who has studied logic must surely see that that is a mighty, big jump. Since the Tungku succeeded in fighting Communism in his home base, the Senator is certain he will also succeed elsewhere even if the conditions are quite different. This must be a new brand of logic! For one thing, there is the simple matter of geography. The Tungku Government is a thousand miles away from the jungles of Borneo. For another, the Borneo peoples, particularly in North Borneo, are not quite prepared for self-government. And how can the distinguished Senator be so sure about “continued British military and economic aid”, when Britain no longer requires a military outpost in this area as an essential link in her claim of defense, when the usefulness of fixed bases — such as Singapore — has been rendered obsolete by new developments in nuclear warfare and when England, beset by economic problems and stymied by many commitments, must of necessity launch a program of progressive withdrawal from Southeast Asia? The good Senator did not care to tell our people that the whole concept of Malaysia was designed to sterilize Singapore, that the whole plan was intended to redress Chinese dominance in Singapore and Malaya and that the Federation was not conceived out of a sense of oneness, or of racial or ethnic unity, or of a common heritage, but out of mutual fear and distrust. How can a Federation — so conceived and designed — endure, much less bring stability to a region where the countries immediately involved — the Philippines and Indonesia — have not even been consulted? The British may well be wrong here, just as they were proved wrong in their evaluation of Singapore on the eve of the Second World War (remember how the British thought it could “stand a long siege” and yet this “key base” fell in less than a week’s time?) and just as they are now being proved wrong in Africa where the British-inspired Central African Federation is about ready to collapse. And if the Malaysia Federation should fail and become instead the focal center of Communist infection, what does the good Senator intend to do? Isn’t it rather ironic that whereas in some responsible British quarters, including a sector of the British press, there has arisen a lurking doubt as to the feasibility of the Malaysia plan, the good Senator should be so certain about its success?
The respected Senator tells us that he cannot say whether the Greater Confederation plan is a better substitute. I thought he had all the relevant facts. And if he did not have all the relevant facts, may it not have been the better part of prudence to give the higher officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs all the chance to explain the outlines of the plan? But as I said earlier, the good Senator had access to the Government’s Confidential Report. He knows or should know that incisive studies have been made and completed since last year on the Greater Confederation Plan by an Ad Hoc Committee, composed of professors and scholars in the University of the Philippines. Surely, he does not expect his Government to spell out the Confederation Plan to the last detail at this time, before an agreement in principle is reached among the proposed members. Assuming that the Greater Confederation Plan does not convince the good Senator, after a careful reading of the studies that have been completed, can he not possibly render service to the Republic by suggesting positive, meaningful alternatives, having in mind his massive research and studies on the subject?
Our distinguished Senator has but one suggestion. I quote him:
“…the better course to follow is for our government to inform the United Nations in due time, i.e., when the Federation of Malaysia Plan is submitted for consideration in the United Nations, that we are voluntarily relinquishing whatever claims of sovereignty we may have to any portion of North Borneo in order to accelerate the changing of its status from a non-self-governing territory to that of a self-governing or independent State and that we favor holding a plebiscite under UN auspices to give the people of North Borneo the opportunity to freely express their will and wishes…”
In short, the good Senator would have us tell the world we are abandoning our claim, let Malaya take over North Borneo under the so-called Malaysia Federation, then ask for a referendum in North Borneo to ascertain what the North Borneans want. This, to my mind, is a proposal so naive it does not do justice to the reputation of the distinguished Senator or to the depth and range of his studies. In the first place, a Federation plan need not be approved by the United Nations. In the second place, a sophisticated study of the results of a plebiscite under the circumstances set forth by the distinguished Senator (and having in mind the plebiscites that have already been held, where there was indeed no choice but to say “yes” to what the British and Malayans wanted) forecloses the kind of result that will be achieved. For so long the North Borneans have been under British tutelage; the Malaysia plan is British-conceived, British-inspired and British-sponsored; Malaya is raring to take over a territory whose native inhabitants, according to the Cobbold Report, have a low level of education and political consciousness and who were ready to agree to the Malaysia proposals “although they were not fully understood.” Now, what kind of free elections does the Senator expect to witness in North Borneo?
In fine, the Senator would have the Republic launch a program of defeat — born of fear and doubt and timidity. I cannot agree to such a plan of action.
We have told the British that we agree that their interests in the region should be respected and that we welcome any practical arrangements to this end. But this should not take the form of colonialism in a different guise which, instead of being a factor of stability becomes the source of endless provocation. The Philippines is here in Southeast Asia to stay; Britain, saddled with various commitments, probably desires to play a lesser role in Southeast Asia and make a graceful exit; Malaya, a distant stranger to the region, desires a virtual annexation of the Bornean territories to sterilize and quarantine Singapore, the “key base”, which is predominantly Chinese and, whose loyalties are not beneath suspicion. A professor in an Australian University, writing in the India Quarterly, makes a thorough analysis of the Malaysia Plan and sees great difficulties ahead.
“Even in North Borneo and Sarawak the indigenous peoples are not happy about a federation. Their own racial problems are much simpler and their economic prosperity does not require any political integration with Malaya. In any case, Borneo territories are extremely jealous of their imminent independence which they are reluctant to submerge in a federation.
“It is also unclear how the central (Tungku) government located in Kuala Lumpur would be able to exercise effective control over those territories, which are separated by South China sea from Malaya by varying distances, from about 500 miles to well over a thousand. Jesselton is nearer to Saigon or to Manila than to Kuala Lumpur. In area British Borneo is about the same as Malaya, but its 1400 mile long coast line is longer than the Federation’s. Defense, in the event of a crisis, from Malaya would be difficult…” (Singhal, D.P., Imperial Defence, Communist Challenge and the Great Design).
The good Senator realizes, of course, that if North Borneo should fall into hostile hands, it is the Philippines that will be immediately affected. And yet until we filed our claim to North Borneo and talks were conducted thereafter in London culminating in an official cognizance of our claim, there was no attempt at all to consult with us on matters that affect the very survival and security of this country. It is only now that Britain and Malaya have become increasingly appreciative of our stand and their willingness not to prejudice our claim despite Malaysia is certainly a great credit to the Administration. If between now and August 31,1963, the scheduled date of birth of the Malaysia Federation, these countries should stiffen in their attitude towards our claim, I must state in all candor that for all my respect for him and even assuming the nobility of his motives, the good Senator cannot fully escape the burden of responsibility,
I am no apologist for the President of the Philippines, not even on the North Borneo question and will disagree with him whenever I think that his action is not well-advised. But I believe that on such a fundamental question as this, it may be well for us to remember that political considerations, bitterness and endless quibbling should stop at the water’s edge and that the claim to North Borneo is not the claim of the President, nor of the Liberal Party, nor of his Administration, but a claim of the entire Republic, based on respect for the rule of law, the sanctity of contractual obligations, the sacredness of facts and the relentless logic of our situation in this part of the world.
Privilege Speech of Senator Lorenzo Sumulong on the Sabah Claim
Philippine Senate, March 25, 1963
I have refrained from discussing on the floor of the Senate the Malaysia plan or the alternative plan of a Greater Malayan Confederation proposed by President Macapagal in connection with the Philippine claim of sovereignty to a portion of North Borneo, while the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations and National Defense and Security were holding joint closed-door hearings in Camp Murphy.
As your Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, I had made my own studies and researches, but I thought that there might be new facts and considerations which our defense and foreign affairs officials might bring to our attention during the briefing.
Now that the briefing is over and the administration experts have submitted to the two Committees all the facts within their knowledge and possession, I believe it is already proper, nay, I believe it is my duty to submit for the consideration of the entire Senate and of our people the facts and considerations which I believe are material and necessary to the formation and crystallization of an intelligent opinion about the two plans. In so doing, I want to make clear the responsibility for the facts and considerations I am about to present is my own.
I want to make clear that I am always subject to correction. If my facts and considerations are wrong, I would be ready to admit and correct my mistakes. And I do hope that others will do likewise.
Under the United Nations Charter, it is the duty of every colonial power administering non-self-government or independence and until that people has been made self-governing or independent, it is the duty of the colonial power to submit to the United Nations every year a report of its administration of the territory.
The duty of the administering power to prepare the non-self-governing territory for self-government or independence is provided for in Chapter XI, Article 73 b of the United Nations Charter which makes it the duty of the administering power “to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the (non-self-governing) peoples and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions.”
No RP Protest
Since the organization of the United Nations in 1945, Britain in accordance with the obligations imposed by the Charter has declared herself to be the colonial power administering Sarawak as British colony and has been submitting to the United Nations every year a report of her administration of these three non-self-governing territories. During all that time, the Philippines as a member of the United Nations has not put forward any claim of sovereignty over North Borneo, nor has the Philippines registered any reservation or protest to the report submitted by Britain to the United Nations every year as the administering power over North Borneo. It was only in December of last year (1962) that the Philippine delegation, during the consideration of the yearly report of the British administration over North Borneo in the Trusteeship Committee, made a reservation contesting for the first time the right of the British to rule and administer North Borneo.
Why was the Philippine claim of sovereignty to North Borneo so tardily presented in the United Nations? The answer is that North Borneo is not a part of the national territory of the Philippines as defined and delimited in our Constitution. When the United Nations was organized in 1945, the claimants to North Borneo was not the Philippines but the heirs of the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram who died in 1936. If the said heirs had any claims to sovereignty over North Borneo — as distinguished from their proprietary claims — they could have filed a petition or a reservation to the United Nations protesting against British rule and administration over North Borneo, but they did not file any such petition or reservation. It was only in February of last year (1962) that the said heirs informed our Department of Foreign Affairs that they were claiming sovereignty to North Borneo and they offered to turn over such claim of sovereignty to the Republic of the Philippines, reserving however to themselves their proprietary claims.
This offer was accepted by President Macapagal and to give semblance of legality to the transfer of sovereignty from the said heirs to the Republic of the Philippines, in September of last year (1962) out of the several surviving heirs of Sultan Jamalul Kiram who died in 1936, Esmail Kiram was proclaimed the new Sultan of Sulu claiming to possess all the attributes and prerogatives of a sovereign ruler and as such he executed a deed of cession of his alleged claim of sovereignty to North Borneo in favor of the Republic of the Philippines.
I am and have always been in favor of our government giving every possible support to the proprietary claims of the heirs of the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram. But I have always believed as I still believe that it was a mistake for President Macapagal to have agreed to such transfer of the claim of sovereignty from the said heirs to the Republic of the Philippines for the following reasons:
(1) The said heirs had never filed a petition or reservation before the United Nations claiming sovereignty to North Borneo and protesting British rule and administration thereof. Since the transferee acquires no better rights than the transferor, this weakens the present claim of the Republic of the Philippines.
(2) Even if the said heirs had a strong claim of sovereignty to North Borneo, our government should have advised them to file a petition or reservation to that effect before the United Nations, instead of agreeing to a transfer of such claim of sovereignty to the Republic of the Philippines. If the said heirs lose their case before the United Nations, there would be no loss of honor of prestige for the Republic of the Philippines. As it is now, if the belated claim of sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines to a portion of North Borneo does not prosper in the United Nations, the damage to our national honor and prestige would be incalculable. We would appear as attempting to colonize North Borneo without any lawful or just cause, contrary to our vehement denunciations of colonialism and our loud demands that the grant of self-government or independence to subject peoples be accelerated. Even if the United Nations should sustain the belated Philippine claim of sovereignty to North Borneo, we stand to gain nothing because we are committed to speedily end our rule and administration there, grant its people self-government or independence and respect their will and wishes as to whether they will join the Federation of Malaysia or the Greater Malayan Confederation proposed by President Macapagal.
(3) Contrary to the impression created in the minds of our people, the claim of sovereignty put forward by our government as transferee of the Sultan of Sulu does not cover the entire area of North Borneo, but only a portion thereof. This was admitted by the Philippine panel during the London talks, but the administration of President Macapagal has kept mum and has not brought this important fact to the attention of our people. During our joint committee meetings in Camp Murphy, I asked the members of the Philippine panel present if they could tell us the exact metes and bounds and the exact area of this portion of North Borneo claimed by our government but none could give us a positive answer. This was amazing in the extreme. When a man sues in court to recover title and possession to a piece of land, the first thing he has to prove in court is the identity of the land. But here is the administration of President Macapagal involving the honor and prestige of our government in a claim of sovereignty to a portion of North Borneo, without being able to tell us the identity of that portion. And yet, administration stalwarts have been daring the British to have the case tried and decided by the International Court of Justice.
From the compilation of documents submitted to us by Minister Benito Bautista of the Department of Foreign Affairs, I found that before Overbeck and Dent entered into the contract of January 12,1878 with the Sultan of Sulu, they had previously obtained from the Sultan of Brunei four other similar contracts on December 29,1877. As narrated by K. G. Tregonning in his book entitled Under Chartered Company Rule and borne out by the descriptions contained in the four contracts of the Sultan of Brunei.
“The Sultan (of Brunei), in three grants of territory from Gaya Bay on the west coast to the Sibuco River on the east; and the Pengeran Tumongong (heir to the Sultan of Brunei) in a grant of his west coast possessions, the rivers Kimanis and Benowi, ceded to Overbeck and Dent, with all the powers of sovereignty, some 28,000 square miles of territory, embracing 900 miles of North Bornean coastline, for a total yearly payment of Malayan $ 5,000.” (op.cit. P-14)
In the later contract with the Sultan of Sulu, the territory ceded to Overbeck and Dent was from the Pandassan River on the west coast to the Sibuco River on the east, for which the Sultan of Sulu was to receive a yearly payment of Malayan $ 5,000. A look at the map of North Borneo will show that Gaya Bay is farther to the west than Pandassan River. So the territory ceded under the four contracts with the Sultan of Brunei was more extensive and embraced the territory ceded under the contract with the Sultan of Sulu. Why did Overbeck and Dent still contracted with the Sultan of Sulu for territory already ceded to them under the four contracts with the Sultan of Brunei? According to Professor Tregonning in his aforecited book, after Overbeck and Dent had negotiated the four contracts with the Sultan of Brunei, they learned later that the northeast coast, which comprised a large portion of the territory ceded by the Sultan of Brunei, was in the hands of the Sultan of Sulu who claimed to have received it from the Sultan of Brunei in 1704 in return for the help in suppressing a rebellion and it was for this reason that they negotiated the contract with the Sultan of Sulu on January 12,1878 (op. cit. pp. 11,14-15). From this it appears that the territory claimed and ceded by the Sultan of Sulu on January 12, 1878 was likewise claimed and had been previously ceded by the Sultan of Brunei on December 29,1877 and that Overbeck and Dent evaluated the rights acquired from the Sultan of Brunei to be three times greater than the rights acquired from the Sultan of Sulu, the yearly payment to the former being Malayan $ 15,000 and to the latter Malayan $ 5,000. It is small wonder that the administration of President Macapagal is at a loss to identify the portion of North Borneo subject of their claim of sovereignty.
It should be the common concern of the Philippines and of all countries whose peoples believe in the free and democratic way of life, to see to it that Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo, are not only speedily decolonized and granted self-government or independence, but also adequately safeguarded against the danger of communist infiltration and subversion once they become self-governing or independent.
The balance of power in Asia between the forces of freedom on the one hand and the forces of communism on the other, is in a very precarious and critical posture today. Laos has turned neutralist. The ruler of Cambodia has decided to align himself on the side of Red China. South Vietnam is facing a life and death struggle with the Viet Congs. India’s borders have been invaded by Red China. If Sarawak, Brunei, North Borneo and Singapore, should be lost to the free world by their turning communist or neutralist, the peace and security of the free world countries in Asia including the Philippines would be gravely imperilled.
We in the Philippines are firmly and uncompromisingly against communism. Whether under the former Nacionalista administration or under the present Liberal administration, that has been our consistent policy. We are a religious people and we cannot accept a godless ideology. We want progress, but we do not want to achieve progress through dictatorship and violence; we want to achieve progress through freedom and peaceful reform.
In the fight between the forces of freedom and the forces of communism, we do not believe in being neutralist or non-aligned. We want to stand up and be counted on the side of the forces of freedom.
And because the military power of the forces of communism is great due to their tremendous human and material resources, no nation can resist and fight them alone and unaided. The forces of freedom must combine and cooperate militarily and economically in order to balance the military and economic power of the forces of communism. Thus, we have entered into defensive alliances like the mutual defense pact with the US and the SEATO pact.
The Federation of Malaysia is the British plan of giving self-government to Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo and at the same time safeguard them against communist infiltration and subversion. Under the plan, Britain will relinquish sovereignty over Sarawak and North Borneo and withdraw protection over Brunei and then these three newly independent states will join the 11 states now composing the Federation of Malaya and Singapore in forming the Federation of Malaysia. In other words, the present Federation of Malaya will be enlarged by bringing in Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo as new members and as thus enlarged it will be renamed Federation of Malaysia. The present mutual defense pact between Britain and the Federation of Malaya will then be extended to this enlarged Federation of Malaysia.
The plan is to follow the same pattern by which Malaya was given independence on August 31, 1957 and by means of a mutual defense pact with the former mother country (Britain), receive such military and economic aid to enable her to fight communist infiltration and subversion successfully.
Let us recall the history of Malaya. For a hundred years, Malaya was under British rule before she won her independence on August 31, 1957. Malaya is a Federation of 11 states, two of which were formerly British colonies and the remaining nine were formerly protectorates. Under her constitution, these 11 states upon becoming independent agreed to form a Federation with a federal parliament composed of two houses in which each of the 11 states was given representation.
When she became independent in 1957, Malaya was faced with a grave internal problem of communist infiltration and subversion. In population, the Chinese is the second biggest in number, next only to the Malays, so that the danger of Chinese communist infiltration and subversion was real and acute. This danger had to be met realistically and the leaders of Malaya realized that it had to be fought not only with military but also with economic weapons, for which they needed British aid and cooperation. So, the leaders of Malaya evolved a five-year development plan to improve the livelihood of the people so that they will not be enticed by communist propaganda harping on the poverty of the masses and promising a classless society where there will be no poor and no rich. This five-year development plan involved an expenditure of Malayan $ 1,358,000,000 and the British government agreed to give extensive financial help to it and the plan was so well implemented that Malaya has achieved an economic progress next only to Japan in the whole Far East as shown by her per capita income which is second only to Japan. Also, there was a British grant of Malayan $ 114 million for the establishment of the federal armed forces of Malaya and for the first three years a yearly grant of Malayan $ 25 million to help Malaya deal with the terrorist problem. Through these economic and military measures, Malaya under the leadership of Tungku Abdul Rahman was able to break the communist backbone in that country, in the same way that through similar economic and military measures, Magsaysay was able to break the communist backbone here in our country, so that the names of Abdul Rahman and Magsaysay rank high in the roster of successful communist fighters in Asia.
Because of the success of the Federation of Malaya under the leadership of Abdul Rahman and with the British military and economic aid to fight communist infiltration and subversion, it is also expected that the enlarged Federation of Malaysia under the same leadership of Abdul Rahman and with continued British military and economic aid will be able to meet and overcome any communist attempt to capture Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo through infiltration and subversive activities.
It is pertinent to point out that Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo are outside the SEATO area so that they cannot rely on the SEATO for protection against communism. Neither can they rely on US military or economic aid, since the present trend in American foreign policy as manifested in Senator Mansfield’s position is to cut down on American foreign aid by not giving to those countries to which the US has not heretofore given aid and to gradually reduce the amount as to those countries to which the US has been giving aid. It is only Britain which can be expected to extend military and economic aid to these countries once they become independent because Britain is their former mother country and because of the close trade and economic ties that will have to continue even after the severance of political ties between’ them.
Let me now turn to the Greater Confederation of Malay States proposed by President Macapagal. Is this a better substitute to the Malaysia plan as an instrumentality to make Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo safe and secure against communist infiltration and subversion once these countries become self-governing or independent? According to President Macapagal, it is a better substitute. For my part, I cannot say whether it is a better substitute or not, for the simple reason that its proponents cannot give us any information as to what concretely and specifically are the plans and the ways and means by which this Greater Malayan Confederation is expected to help protect Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo against communist infiltration and subversion. All that we are told is that the proposed members of are Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei, North Borneo and the Philippines. According to President Macapagal in a recent interview with a correspondent of Agence de France, all that he could say was that the proposed members will retain their separate sovereignties. This means that the Philippine claim to a portion of North Borneo will be given so that North Borneo may become independent and sovereign and thus qualify to be a member of this Greater Malayan Confederation. I have asked before and I now again ask: Is it the plan that this Greater Malayan Confederation will not seek any outside military or economic aid either from Britain or from the US and that each member state will just rely on her own military and economic resources to fight communist infiltration and subversion? Is the Philippines ready to extend military and economic aid to North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak and if so, how much is the present administration willing to appropriate for this purpose? What joint and common measures will the member states take in order to help each other in fighting communist infiltration and subversion? Will there be a common armed force? Will there be a common economic program? Or will this be a purely social club? These questions are relevant, material and pertinent and must be answered by President Macapagal and the proponent of the Greater Malayan Confederation, before they can expect any Filipino to rally to its support and before they can expect the proposed member-states of such Confederation to be convinced that it is a better and more effective instrument than the Malaysia plan to combat and overcome the communist menace in their respective territories. I regret to report that in the joint committee hearings of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and National Defense and Security, none of the defense and foreign officials present could give any answer to these questions and they confessed to our amazement and surprise that the detailed plans and objectives of this projected Greater Malayan Confederation have not been spelled out.
From the foregoing facts and considerations, I submit to the Senate and to our people the following conclusions:
(1) If the administration of President Macapagal seriously believes that the Philippine claim of sovereignty to a portion of North Borneo should be prosecuted to the bitter end, it must be prepared to establish the identity of that portion whether the case is brought before the International Court of Justice or before the United Nations.
(2) If the Philippines lose its case, the damage to the honor and prestige of our Republic would be incalculable. We would appear as having attempted to colonize a portion of North Borneo without any lawful or just cause, forgetting our colonialism and our loud demands for accelerating the grant of self-government or independence to subject peoples especially those in Asia.
(3) Even if the Philippines win its case, we stand to gain nothing because under the United Nations charter, the Bandung Conference declaration and the 1960 decolonization resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, we have to give up our rule and administration to the portion of North Borneo we are claiming, grant its people self-government or independence and respect their will and wishes as to whether they will join the Federation of Malaysia or the Greater Malayan Confederation or exist as a separate independent state. In this connection, it is worthy of note that judging from press reports of Filipino newspapermen who had gone to North Borneo, the popular reaction there to our claim of sovereignty is one of surprise and resentment rather than sympathy and support.
(4) If President Macapagal honestly believes that the Federation of Malaysia plan is not according with the freely expressed will and wishes of the people of North Borneo, despite the information recently given by the Mayor of Jesselton while here as an ECAFE delegate that 96 out of 111 representatives elected to the legislative council of North Borneo last December favor Malaysia, he can raise the question before the United Nations and ask that a plebiscite be held under the auspices of the world organization to determine whether the people of North Borneo really favor Malaysia or not. And if Indonesia insists that the peoples of Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo are against Malaysia, we should point out to her that there is available UN machinery and there is the peaceful remedy of asking for a plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations, which renders unnecessary resort to war or use of force and violence.
(5) If President Macapagal honestly believes that his proposed Greater Malayan Confederation is a better substitute to the Malaysia plan to defend and protect ourselves and the other Malayan peoples of Asia against the danger of communist infiltration and subversion, then he must abandon talking in platitudes and generalities and at once spell out concretely and specifically, the ways and means, the military and economic aid if any by which the Greater Malayan Confederation expects to help the people of North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak to fight and overcome successfully the forces of communism once they become self-governing or independent.
(6) Our people must be told and made to realize that if we are to be consistent with our avowed policy of opposing communism firmly and uncompromisingly, then for the peace and security not only of ourselves but of our free world allies in Asia, we must see to it that North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak, remain on the side of the free would and not turn communist or neutralist, once they become self-governing or independent.
(7) Rather than prosecute the Philippine claim of sovereignty to a portion of North Borneo to the bitter end. I for one believe in all sincerity that under the present circumstances, the better course to follow is for our government to inform the United Nations in due time, i.e., when the Federation of Malaysia plan is submitted for consideration in the United Nations that we are voluntarily relinquishing whatever claim of sovereignty we may have to any portion of North Borneo in order to accelerate the changing of its status from a non-self governing territory to that of a self-governing or independent state and that we favor holding a plebiscite under United Nations auspices to give the people of North Borneo the opportunity to freely express their will and wishes as to whether they want to join the Federation of Malaysia or the Greater Malayan Confederation or exist as a separate independent state.
Subscribe to our global nation newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.