Mar 12, 2013

Sabah and the Sulu claims - The Brunei Times

Sabah and the Sulu claims

Rozan Yunos

 (L) The first treaty was signed by Brunei's 24th Sultan, Sultan Abdul Momin, appointing Baron de Overbeck as the Maharaja Sabah, Rajah Gaya and Sandakan signed on 29th December 1877. (R) The second treaty was signed by Sultan Jamalalulazam of Sulu appointing Baron de Overbeck as Dato Bendahara and Raja Sandakan on 22nd January 1878, about three weeks after the first treaty was signed. Pictures: Courtesy of Rozan Yunos

Thursday, March 7, 2013

THE 1968 Programme Book for the Coronation of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin Waddaulah as the 29th Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, had two interesting documents inserted inside. The documents were reproduction of two treaties taken from microfilm kept at the Public Record Office in London.

The first treaty was signed by Brunei's 24th Sultan, Sultan Abdul Momin, appointing Baron de Overbeck as the Maharaja Sabah, Rajah Gaya and Sandakan signed on 29th December 1877. The second treaty was signed by Sultan Jamalalulazam of Sulu appointing Baron de Overbeck as Dato Bendahara and Raja Sandakan on 22nd January 1878, about three weeks after the first treaty was signed.

That begs the question: Who was responsible for Sabah or North Borneo as it was known then towards the end of the 19th century ? That probably has a bearing on the event now unfolding in Lahad Datu in Sabah, where a group of armed men supposedly from the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo is claiming that they are the rightful owners of Sabah.

Many of the early modern accounts of written history in Brunei noted that Sulu was given possession of Sabah or parts of Sabah for help rendered to Sultan Muhydin, the 14th Sultan of Brunei who fought a civil war against the 13th Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Abdul Mubin.

Sultan Abdul Mubin usurped the throne after killing Sultan Muhammad Ali when the latter tried to stop Sultan Abdul Mubin from taking his revenge for the death of his son killed by the son of Sultan Muhammad Ali. Sultan Abdul Mubin appointed Sultan Muhydin as Bendahara but eventually Sultan Muhydin tricked Sultan Abdul Mubin into leaving Brunei for Pulau Cermin and appointed himself as the new Sultan of Brunei. The two Sultans fought against each other and Sultan Muhyidin finally triumphed, said to be due to the assistance provided by the Sulu Sultanate.

Sir Hugh Low, writing in the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JSBRAS) published on 5 June 1880 entitled 'Selesilah (Book of Descent) of the Rajas of Bruni', wrote that "by the assistance of a force from the Sultan of Soolok, the forts on the island (Pulau Cermin) were captured".

Earlier Sir Hugh Low described the negotiation between Sulu and Brunei: "the Bataraa of Soolok went up to Bruni and met the Sultan Muaddin and having feasted and drank, the Sultan asked the Batara for his assistance to destroy the enemies at the island, promising that if the island should be conquered, the land from the North as far as westward as Kimani should belong to Soolook".

HR Hughes-Hallett writing in the Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society published in August 1940 entitled A Sketch of the History of Brunei wrote: "by the beginning of the 18th century, the kingdom (Brunei) had been territorially diminished by the cession to the Sultan of Sulu in the north".

CA Majul in his book Muslims in the Philippines (1973) referred to a letter from Sultan Jamalul Azam of Sulu to the Governor General of Spain on 17 September 1879 that the coast area from Kimanis to Balikpapan was to pay tribute to the Sultan which he said proved that the Brunei territory facing Suluk was ceded to Suluk.

Interestingly enough, Pehin Jamil Umar writing in his book, Tarsilah Brunei II: Period of Splendour and Fame (2007), countered all of the above. Pehin Jamil did not deny the fact that the Sulus were invited and promised the northern Brunei territory by Sultan Muhydin if they helped him win the civil war against Sultan Abdul Mubin. However, during the battle for Pulau Cermin, the Sulu forces who were supposed to attack the island from Pulau Keingaran and from the sea, did not do so. They were terrified by the resistance of Sultan Abdul Mubin's forces in Pulau Cermin. It was only after Sultan Muhydin had won the battle did the Sulu forces landed and took the opportunity to seize a number of war booties.

According to Pehin Jamil, Sultan Muhydin refused to cede the territories claimed by Sulu. Pehin Jamil noted that the area was only "claimed" and not "ceded", as Sir Stamford Raffles, in his book "History of Java" (1830), had noted "on the north-east of Borneo proper (Brunei) lies a very considerable territory (Sabah), the sovereignty of which has long been claimed by Sulu Government".

Pehin Jamil further noted that according to the oral tradition, Sulu continued to press their claim. In 1775, one of their chiefs came to Brunei pretending to seek fresh water. What they really wanted was to seek an audience with the Sultan regarding Sabah. However, the Sultan ordered one of the chief wazirs to see them and he threatened that if they wanted to pursue their intention, he will kill them all. The Sulus immediately left. Despite that setback, the Sulus continue to maintain their claims.

The argument that Brunei has not ceded Sabah to Sulu is supported by LR Wright in her book The Origins of British Borneo (1970). She wrote: "indeed, the legitimacy of the Sulu claim to the territory (North Borneo) is in considerable doubt partly because of the unreliability of tarsilas such as 'Selesilah', which in many cases are nothing more than written-down legends to enhance the status of the royal house which produced them. Succeeding Sultans of Brunei have denied that northern Borneo was given to Sulu, and only the weight of Sulu tradition supports the claim. The weight of Brunei tradition challenges it".

The Sulu claim is currently resting on that treaty which was mentioned at the beginning of this article signed by Sultan Jamalalulazam of Sulu appointing Baron de Overbeck as Dato Bendahara and Raja Sandakan on 22nd January 1878. But at the beginning of this article, there is, in fact, another treaty which was signed earlier by Sultan Abdul Momin appointing Baron de Overbeck as the Maharaja Sabah, Rajah Gaya and Sandakan signed on 29th December 1877. In 1877, the Brunei Sultanate then still believed and maintained that the territory was in fact still under the control of the Brunei Sultanate.

Another interesting document is the British North Borneo Treaties Protocol of 1885 signed in Madrid, which is also known as the Madrid Protocol of 1885, a copy of which can be found on Sabah State Attorney General's website. It was signed by the British, Germany and Spain who was the predecessor government of the Philippines. The two most important articles are Article I British and Germany recognising the sovereignty of Spain over the Sulu Archipelago and Article III Spain relinquishing all claims to Borneo.

This article serves only to point out that past events have repercussions on the present and more so if the past events were not clearly defined as in this particular case.

Fully copied from The Brunei Times

How Brunei lost its northern province
Rozan Yunos
Sunday, September 21, 2008

The company takes over: Administered by the British North Borneo Company, Sabah eventually became a British protectorate in 1888. (Top to Bottom) Legal currency issued by the company in 1936; and North Borneo stamp issued between 1888 - 1907 during the reigns of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. Picture: BT/Rozan Yunos Collection

NOT much is known historically about our neighbouring state, Sabah. Not much is also known on how its name was derived. Some say Sabah obtained its name from "Pisang Saba," the banana tree that grew predominantly along Borneo's coastal areas.

Some suggested that Sabah was derived from the Malay word "sabak" which is the place for or act of boiling to extract palm sugar. In Brunei Malay, "saba" means upstream (like Kampong Saba). Sabah is located to the northwest, or upstream of Brunei. Sabah has been a part of Brunei since the 15th century.

In the mid-19th century, Sarawak was being governed by the Brookes. Brunei's remaining province of Sabah was to remain untouched but not for long. By the years of 1865 and 1878, no less than three groups from three different countries attempted to control the northern part of Brunei's remaining territory.

The very first group was from United States of America. Brunei's relationship with the Americans started much earlier. An American warship, the USS Constitution, arrived in Brunei in 1845, seeking a commercial treaty and exclusive rights to the coal deposits in Brunei.

However at the time, Brunei was still seeking British protection and was unwilling to seek American support. But after the British naval attacks in 1846 and the loss of Labuan, Brunei decided that it needed to seek other powers to counter the British.

In 1850, Brunei agreed to sign a US-Brunei Treaty of Friendship and Commerce when Joseph Balestier, an American proposed the treaty. He became the first American Consul-General in Brunei. However despite the treaty no American commercial activity took place until 1864.

In 1864, CL Moses was appointed as the American Consul General in Brunei Darussalam. He signed another treaty with Sultan Abdul Momin and obtained territories from Sulaman River to Paitan River. This area consisted of twenty one districts. The lease was to last for a period of ten years, which consisted almost the entire North Borneo. He paid $4,500 annually.

Moses also paid an additional $4,000 annually and managed to lease additional areas from Pengiran Temenggong Pengiran Anak Hashim. The districts included those from Paitan to Kimanas including two islands, Balabak and Pahlawan.

Moses promised that he would bring economic benefits as well as help recover debts by China Steamship and Labuan Company which were then leasing coal mines in Muara.

The Sultan even provided Moses with a consulate building. However Moses failed to deliver his promises. He became unpopular with the Sultan and frictions between the two developed. In the end Moses set fire to the consulate and blamed the Sultan to get compensation. But a US government inquiry cleared the Sultan and Moses soon lost his job.

Soon after that Moses left for Hong Kong where he met WJ Torrey. Torrey was an American businessman. Both Moses and Torrey set up a new company called the American Trading Company.

Torrey went to Brunei to renegotiate with the Sultan. He was appointed as the Supreme Ruler and Governor of Sabah with the title of Raja of Ambong and Marudu. However in developing Kimanis, Torrey lost a great deal of his money. He could not pay the Sultan the amount agreed for the lease.

With Moses transferring his rights to Torrey, it enabled Torrey to sell all the rights to Baron Gustav von Overbeck.

Baron von Overbeck was the consul of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Hong Kong. He bought the concession rights in Sabah from Torrey. Later Baron von Overbeck together with Alfred Dent of Hong Kong formed a partnership and formed the Dent Company. In 1877, Baron von Overbeck visited Brunei to negotiate a new lease with Sultan Abdul Momin. The latter agreed and a treaty was signed that same year. Sultan Abdul Momin appointed Baron von Overbeck as the Maharaja of Sabah and Raja of Gaya and Sandakan and in return, the Baron shall pay $12,000 per year and additional $3,000 to the Temenggong.

To be on the safe side, since Sabah was also claimed by the Sultan of Sulu, Baron Overbeck negotiated a treaty with the Sultan of Sulu. He signed an agreement with the Sultan of Sulu and agreed to pay him $5,000 annually. The Sultan appointed him as Dato Bendahara and Raja of Sandakan in 1878.

Baron von Overbeck however faced financial problem. He could not get any support from the Austro-Hungarian government. So he decided to sell his share to Alfred Dent.

In 1881 Alfred Dent later managed to get a royal charter to set up another company called the British North Borneo Company in London. William Hood Treacher was appointed the first governor of North Borneo.

The British North Borneo Company gradually established its rule over the territories it had leases. They even bought over other territorial rights which were not included in the original lease from other Brunei Pengirans and nobles.

At the same time, in awarding the Royal Charter, the British government assumed a form of sovereignty over the state especially its foreign relations.

Because of this, the other western powers in the area immediately took renewed interest in Borneo and Malaya. However the Spanish agreed to British control over northern Borneo because the British accepted Spanish control over the Sulu Archipelago. The Germans also accepted British control over Sabah because the British agreed to accept German control over New Guinea.

It was the Dutch that tried to claim some land near Sandakan in 1879 but the British North Borneo Company objected to it. To solve the problems, both the Dutch and the British agreed to divide Borneo into a British area in the north and a Dutch area in the south.

With Rajah Brooke in Sarawak pursuing its expansionist policy, the British could not have two separate policies of restraining one while allowing the other.

These two were allowed to begin a "contest" to gain more and more of Brunei's remaining territories. Sarawak managed to get Baram and later Trusan and Limbang while Sabah managed to get Padas. In 1888, North Borneo similarly to Brunei became a British protectorate. The Company's rule in North Borneo had the greatest impact on the development of the region. A system of indirect rule was established in the administration of North Borneo.

The British North Borneo Company effectively ruled up to 1942, after more than 60 years in Sabah, when the World War Two erupted. Japanese forces occupied Sabah until she was liberated by the Allied Forces in 1945. After the war, North Borneo was administered by the British Military Administration until civil government was restored on July 15, 1946.

In 1946, Sabah was placed under the British Crown as the British North Borneo Company could not afford to rebuild Sabah after the devastation of the War. The destruction of the capital Sandakan by allied bombing was so complete that Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) was chosen as the alternative post-war capital and it has remained since then.

Sabah joined Malaysia in 1963 when Malaysia was formally established, on 16 September 1963 and North Borneo's name was changed to Sabah. Preceding this, North Borneo obtained self-government from the British on 31 August 1963. Sabah entered a new era when she became part of Malaysia.

The writer runs a website on Brunei at

Fully copied from The Brunei Times


MILF: Wrong for Sulu group to bear arms

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is against the Sulu armed groups occupation of Tanduo village and is confident its actions will not derail the roadmap for peace in Mindanao.

Describing the stand-off as unnecessary, MILF first vice-chairman Ghazali Jaafar said it was wrong for the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to pursue the Sabah claims by bearing arms in Malaysia.

"Any claim should be pursued through dialogue and not through the barrel of a gun. When you use guns, you are inviting harsh situations that affect people on both sides of the border," he said.

He said MILF was closely following the stand-off between the armed group led by Raja Muda Azzimudie, Jamaluls younger brother, and Malaysian security forces at Kampung Tanduo in the Felda Sahabat area.

Ghazali was confident the stand-off would not scuttle the Oct 15 peace framework between the Philippine government and MILF that was brokered by Malaysia.

"This framework is for everybody. Nobody is left out. It will see the establishment of a government for the Bangsamoro people. It includes a Bangsamoro basic law that is being drafted by a transition commission as well as an electoral process.

"Any Bangsamoro person who qualifies can run for political position including our brothers in MILF and heirs of the Sulu sultanate," he added. The Star/ANN

Violence not solution, governors tell Sulu Sultan

Tuesday, March 5, 2013
AMID the escalating conflict in Sabah, governors from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao yesterday appealed to Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to ask his followers to peacefully return to the country.

The five ARMM governors Abdusakur Tan of Sulu; Sadikul Sahali of Tawi-Tawi; Esmael Mangudadatu of Maguindanao; Jum Akbar of Basilan; and Mamintal Adiong Jr. of Lanao del Sur also said the use of force was not the way to pursue the sultanate's claim to Sabah, and implored it to follow international rules and protocols in fighting for their cause.

They said the Filipinos working quietly in Sabah are being displaced or deported, and even those living in the nearby Mindanao provinces are affected. They also urged President Aquino to work for a peaceful resolution to the sultanate's claim to Sabah, and taking history into account. Tan said the governors, as fellow brothers in Islam of Kiram, intend to meet the sultan to discuss the issue with him.

Sahali, for his part, said that if the Philippine and Malaysian governments would allow it, the governors would want to talk to the leader of the sultanate's "royal army", now battling it out with Malaysian forces after landing in Lahad Datu, Sabah weeks ago to press the sultanate's claim to the territory. In a press conference yesterday, the ARMM governors said they are concerned about the violence in Sabah.Philippines Inquirer/ANN

Soldiers destroy marijuana farm in Sulu

Sunday, June 3, 2012
PHILIPPINE Marines and anti-narcotics agents raided and destroyed a half-hectare marijuana plantation in Sulu but no one was around so no arrests were made, military officials said yesterday.

Soldiers from the Marine Battalion Landing Team 2 and the 3rd Marine Brigade (3MBDE), along with agents from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, conducted the operation at the plantation in Barangay Gulangan in the town of Maimbung on Friday afternoon.

They uprooted and seized fully grown marijuana plants with an estimated market value of P8 million (US$184 392), Navy spokesperson Colonel Omar Tonsay said in a statement. "After the documentation of the evidence, the PDEA investigating team and the Marines took the uprooted plants to the 3MBDE headquarters in Jolo, for temporary safekeeping," he said.

Brigade commander Brig Gen Remigio C. Valdez said: "The raid proved to be a successful achievement following carefully planned and executed intelligence and tactical operations by well-coordinated interagency operations between the Marines and the PDEA. Philippine Daily Inquirer

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