The Claims Over Sabah

I believe that our country, the Philippines, really owns Sabah and here is the timeline to trace the history of this issue.


Spain signed peace treaties with the strongest sultanates, Sulu and Maguindanao, recognizing their de facto independence.


Sultan of Sulu became sovereign ruler of most of North Borneo by virtue of a cession from the Sultan of Brunei whom he had helped in suppressing a rebellion.

There is no document stating the grant of North Borneo from Sultan of Brunei to Sultan of Sulu, but it is accepted by all sides.

March 17, 1824

Treaty of London signed by the Netherlands and Great Britain

Allocates certain territories in the Malay archipelago to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands (Dutch East Indies)

September 23, 1836

Treaty of Peace and Commerce between Spain and Sulu, signed in Sulu

Granting Spanish protection of sultanate, mutual defense, and safe passage for Spanish and Joloan ships between ports of Manila, Zamboanga, and Jolo.[4]

Ortiz: Spain did not claim sovereignty over Sulu, but merely offered “the protection of Her Government and the aid of fleets and soldiers for wars…”


Muda Hassim, uncle of the Sultan of Sulu,  publicly announced as successor to the Sultanate of Sulu with the title of Sultan Muda: he was also the leader of the “English party,”(today the term for Crown Prince is Raja Muda)

The British Government appoints James Brooke as a confidential agent in Borneo.

The British Government extends help to Sultan Muda to deal with piracy and settle the Government of Borneo.

April 1846

Sir James Brooke receives intelligence that the Sultan of Sulu ordered the murder of Muda Hassim, and some thirteen Rajas and many of their followers; Muda Hassim kills himself because he found that resistance is useless.

July 19, 1846

Admiral Thomas Cochrane, Commander-in-chief of East Indies and China Station of the Royal Navy, issued a Proclamation to cease hostilities (“piracy,” crackdown versus pro-British faction) if the Sultan of Sulu would govern “lawfully” and respect his engagements with the British Government

If the Sultan persisted, the Admiral proclaimed that the squadron would burn down the capital of the sultanate.

May 7, 1847

James Brooke is instructed by the British Government to conclude a treaty with the Sultan of Brunei

British occupation of Labuan is confirmed and Sultan concedes that no territorial cession of any portion of his country should ever be made to any foreign power without the sanction of Great Britain.

May 29, 1849

Convention of Commerce between Britain and the Sultanate of Sulu

Sultan of Sulu will not cede any territory without the consent of the British.

April 30, 1851

Treaty signed with Spain by the Sultan of Sulu, Mohammed Pulalun

The Sultanate of Sulu was incorporated into the Spanish Monarchy.
January 17, 1867

Earl of Derby to Lord Odo Russel:

that, whatever Treaty rights Spain may have had to the sovereignty of Sulu and its dependencies, those rights must be considered as having lapsed owing to the complete failure of Spain to attain a de facto control over the territory claimed.

May 30, 1877

Protocol of Sulu signed between Spain, Germany, and Great Britain, providing free movement of ships engaged in commerce and direct trading in the Sulu Archipelago

British Ambassadors in Madrid and Berlin were instructed that the protocol implies recognition of Spanish claims over Sulu or its dependencies.

At this point the following western countries have possessions in Southeast Asia:

1. British = Singapore, Malaya, Brunei, Sarawak, and North Borneo

2. Germany = Papua New Guinea

3. Netherlands = Indonesia

4. Spain = Philippines, Guam, Marshall Islands, Caroline Islands

5. France = Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (French IndoChina)

December 1877

Expeditions of Alfred Dent to control north part of Borneo began

Alfred Dent, member of the commercial house of Dent Brothers and Co. of London.

January 22, 1878

Sir Alfred Dent obtains sovereign control over the northern part of Borneo for 5,300 ringgit ($5,000) from the Sultans of Brunei and Sulu.

Concessions would later be confirmed by Her Majesty’s Royal Charter in November, 1881 granted to the British North Borneo Co.

The territory of the Sultan of Sulu over the island of Borneo.

November 1, 1881

Queen Victoria grants Charter of Incorporation to the British North Borneo Company

British North Borneo Company now does actually exist “as a Territorial Power” and not “as a Trading Company”

November 16, 1881

Spaniards protest granting of Royal Charter

By virtue of treaties of capitulation of 1836, 1851, and 1878, Spain exercised sovereignty over Sulu and its dependencies including North Borneo; Sultan of Sulu had no right to enter into any treaties or make any cessions whatsoever [24]

January 7, 1882

British Foreign Minister Earl Granville’s letter says Crown assumes no dominion or sovereignty over the territories occupied by the Company, nor does it purport to grant to the Company any powers of Government thereover.

March 7, 1885

Spanish claims to Borneo abandoned by Protocol of Sulu entered into by England, Germany and Spain

Spanish supremacy over the Sulu Archipelago was recognised on condition of their abandoning all claim to the portions of Northern Borneo which are now included in the British North Borneo Company’s concessions.

May 12, 1888

While civil war was ongoing in Sulu.

An agreement between the British North Borneo Company and Great Britain; British Government admits the North Borneo Company derived its rights and powers to govern the territory.

June 14, 1888

British Protectorate established over Sarawak.

September 17, 1888

British Protectorate established over Brunei.

December 10, 1898

Treaty of Paris

Spain cedes the Philippine Islands to the United States of America. The treaty lines did not include North Borneo (Sabah).[31]


President Aguinaldo invites the Sultan of Sulu to join the newly-established First Republic of the Philippines.

Malolos Congress appointed representatives for Jolo: Benito Legarda and Victor Papa.

August 20, 1899

Kiram-Bates Treaty

Treaty acknowledged the “sovereignty of the United States over Jolo and its dependencies”

April 28, 1950

House of Representatives approved Concurrent Resolution No. 42 expressing the “sense of the Congress of the Philippines that North Borneo belongs to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu and the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines and authorizing the President (Elpidio Quirino) to conduct negotiations for the restoration of such ownership and sovereign jurisdiction over said territory.” The Senate did not approve the Resolution.

Reps. Macapagal (Pampanga), Rasul (Mindanao and Sulu), Escarreal (Samar), Cases (La Union), Tizon (Samar), Tolentino (Manila), and Lacson (Manila) author the Resolution.

September 4, 1950

Philippines advised British Government that a dispute regarding ownership and sovereignty over North Borneo existed between the two countries.

August 30, 1955

Vice President Carlos P. Garcia and the British Ambassador to Manila signed an agreement that provided for the employment and settlement of 5,000 skilled and unskilled Filipino agriculturists and miners in North Borneo

Agreement not implemented as North Borneo employers feared multiple suits arising from claims of Filipino laborers: they had found a sizable number of Indonesians willing to work on a temporary basis.

January 1957

Governor of North Borneo visits Manila to implement the 1955 labor treaty.

500-man delegation of Filipino Muslims present resolution to President Ramon Magsaysay calling for direct negotiations with the British to return North Borneo to the Philippines. Magsaysay did not act on the resolution.

British response: United Kingdom High Commissioner for Southeast Asia said it would not take seriously the demands of Moros in the Philippines for certain areas of North Borneo.

July 31, 1957

The Federation of Malaya Act was signed.

The Federation of Malaya was established as a sovereign country within the British Commonwealth.

November 25, 1957

Muhammad Esmail Kiram, Sultan of Sulu, issued a proclamation declaring the termination of the Overbeck and Dent lease, effective January 22, 1958.

“A syndicate headed by Nicasio Osmeña acting as attorney-in-fact for the heirs, attempted without success to negotiate with the British Foreign Office for a lump sum payment of $15 million in full settlement of the lease agreement.”

August 31, 1957

Peninsular Malaya granted independence by Britain.

May 27, 1961

Inclusion of North Borneo (Sabah) in the concept of Malaysia after the UK talks

It was during this time when then President Diosdado Macapagal was forced to initiate the filing of the Philippine claim in North Borneo (Sabah) as it was being considered as a member of the proposed concept of Malaysia broached by Prime Minister Tengku Abduk Rahman in Singapore.

February 5, 1962

Attorneys of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu wrote to the Department of Foreign Affairs with the desire to have the territory included as part of the national territory of the Republic of the Philippines;

Ortiz: J.C. Orendain, acting as counsel for the heirs – regain proprietary rights to North Borneo and that sovereignty be turned over to the Philippine Republic.

April 24, 1962

Heirs of the Sultan of Sulu ceded sovereignty rights over Sabah to the Philippine Government.

Resolution No. 321 unanimously adopted by House of Representatives, urging President Macapagal to take the necessary steps for the recovery of North Borneo (Sabah).

Filed by Rep. Godofredo Ramos (Aklan) the resolution read: “It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the claim to North Borneo is legal and valid.”

September 11, 1962

President Diosdado Macapagal issues special authorization in favor of Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez to formally accept, on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, the cession or transfer of sovereignty over the territory of North Borneo by Sultan Mohammad Esmail Kiram, Sultan of Sulu.

September 12, 1962

Heirs of the Sultan of Sulu cede all rights, proprietary, title, dominion and sovereignty to the Republic of the Philippines

Secretary of Foreign Affairs sends Note to British Ambassador asserting that the Philippine claim subsists despite the London agreements including North Borneo in the Federation of Malaysia.

September 27, 1962

Vice-President Emmanuel Pelaez addresses the United Nations General Assembly

We stand on what we consider to be valid legal and historical grounds. Our claim has been put forward with sincere assurance of our desire that the issue be settled by peaceful means, and without prejudice to the exercise of the right of self-determination by the inhabitants of North Borneo, preferably under United Nations auspices.

June 7 – 11, 1963

Discussion between the foreign affairs secretaries of the Federation of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

The meeting resulted in the drafting of the Manila Accord.[89]

July 9, 1963

Malaysia Agreement was signed.

Article I provided for the creation of the Federation of Malaysia which included the colonies of Singapore, North Borneo, and Sarawak.

July 30 – August 5, 1963

MAPHILINDO (Malaya, Philippines, Indonesia) is formed, a loose consultative body among the three countries.

July 31, 1963

Manila Accord is signed

Indonesia, the Federation of Malaya, and the Philippines sign a policy statement agreeing to peacefully resolve the issue on North Borneo.

July 14-16, 2004

JCBC discusses Filipino workers in Sabah and proposes Philippines set up a consulate in Sabah.

The Malaysian side requested the Philippine side to establish a Consulate in Sabah as soon as possible. The Philippine side reiterated the government’s commitment on this matter.[156]

September 14, 2004

Executive Order No. 357 The Bipartisan Executive-Legislative Advisory Council on the Sabah Issues was abolished and its functions transferred to DFA

September 2005

Group calling itself the “Royal Sultanate of Sulu Archipelago’s Supreme Council” warned Malaysian government not to entertain claims forwarded to it by so-called Sultan Rodinood Julaspi Kiram regarding the resolution of the North Borneo territorial issue.

April 27-28 2006

Closing Statement of Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato’ Seri Syed Hamid Albar at the 6th Malaysia-PH Joint Commission Meeting

Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato’ Seri Syed Hamid Albar, in his closing statement during the 6th Malaysia-PH Joint Commission Meeting  in Kuala Lumpur, asked Secretary Alberto G. Romulo to jointly “find ways to bring a final conclusion to the long due bilateral matters, namely the displaced people in Sabah and the setting up of the Philippine Consulate General in Kota Kinabalu.”[157]

June 3,  2006

Mohammad Fuad Abdulla Kiram I was proclaimed 35th Sultan of the Royal Hashimite Sultanate of Sulu and Sabah with a backing of the Moro National Liberation Front.

May 2007

Jamalul Kiram III runs unsuccessfully for Senator under Partido Demokratikong Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PDSP), receiving over two million votes. PDSP coalesces with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Lakas-CMD and KAMPI to form TEAM Unity. Administration coalition is crushed in the polls with only two of its bets winning, the other 10 seats are won by the opposition.

14th Congress

HB 1202[158]

Introduced by Hon. Antonio V. Cuenco

May 29, 2008

Nur Misuari called for the revival of North Borneo claim in Second Mindanao Leadership Summit attended by MNLF combatants

Strong reaction from Datuk Seri Panglima Yong Teck Lee, President of the Sabah Progressive Party urging Malaysia’s Federal Government to bring in military, set up consulates in Mindanao and invite PHL to set up consulate in Sabah

July 9, 2008

“Sultanate of Sulu” reportedly starts issuing birth certificates to Filipinos in Sabah

July 27, 2008

Datu Omar negotiator of Mohammad Jamal Al Alam heirs was quoted “obtained signatures of nine heirs relinquishing claims to Sabah” but these are denied by claimants

Uka Ulama claimed that nobody has the power to drop the claim because there is no more Sultan who reigns and rules over the territory.

August 10, 2008

Sulu provincial government tells Malaysia to Increase annual payment to Jamalul Kiram III to $500M.

August 20, 2008

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issues Memorandum Circular No. 162 or “Guidelines on matters pertaining to North Borneo (Sabah)”

No recognition of a foreign state’s sovereignty over North Borneo; any official activity relating to North Borneo carried out only with the clearance of or after consultations with DFA

March 10, 2009

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signs R.A. 9522, amending R.A. 5446

In fulfilment of the second Malaysian stipulation, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo removes mention of Sabah or North Borneo in the Archipelagic Baselines of the Philippines law


Nur Misuari issued a statement calling the attention of Malaysia to settle the Sabah issue.

June 2010

Sulu provincial board passed a resolution supporting the demand of heirs to increase the yearly payment to at least $500 Million. [161]

July 16, 2011

Supreme Court decision (GR No. 187167) upholds the baseline law

In its decision, the Supreme Court makes a conclusion of law: that R.A. 9522 did not repeal R.A. 5466, and that therefore, the Philippine claim over Sabah is retained and can be pursued. However, since this is a conclusion of law, the Supreme Court made its conclusion of law without explaining the reasons for its conclusion. It makes the decision, however, binding on the government.

April 24-27, 2012

Visit to the Philippines of Malaysian House Speaker Pandikar Amin Haji Mulia

Malaysian House Speaker Pandikar Amin Haji Mulia raised the matter of the opening of a consulate during his call on President Benigno S. Aquino III, who, in response, instructed the Secretary of Foreign Affairs to study the proposal.[162]
June 5, 2012

Upon returning from a visit to Malaysia, Vice-President Binay says he will recommend to the President the setting up of a Philippine Consulate in Sabah.

February 12, 2013

Followers of Jamalul Kiram numbering over 200 men landed in Laha Datu village in Sabah on February 12, 2013.

Seriously, this issue is stressing me out!! I continue to believe that the Philippines have alegitimate claim to Sabah. The fact that Malaysia is paying more than 7000 ringgitsannually to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu until now, clearly showed that theyrecognize who the rightful owners of Sabah are! How could they lay claim to a territory when they are paying rent to Filipino citizens? You don’t have to be a lawyer to figure out that this part of Borneo is legally our turf.
Over the years, several hundred thousand Filipinos were forced out of Sabah, but the present dispensation have not dared to raise even a sigh of protest to this ruthless act against our compatriots. I am not sure why our dear leaders would not dare to antagonize this nation. They prefer to be bullied than asserting the rights of the affected Filipinos in exchange for what, economic ties?
It is very clear that Sabah is very much part of our country and its history. Malaysian government is pathetic. Nothing more, nothing less.

“Short History of the Sulu Sultanate.” Sovereign Sulu. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <>.

British North Borneo. “British Borneo Treaties.” Lawnet. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <>.

“Hadji Rodinood M. Sultan Julaspi Kiram – reigning 29th Sultan of Sulu.” Sovereign Sulu. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2013. <>.

“History of the Royal House of Sulu.” Official website of the Royal House of Sulu. N.p., 20 Dec. 1936. Web. 22 Feb. 2013. <!history&gt;.