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MANILA – The Philippine claim over Sabah is solid. Thus said eminent statesman Jovito Salonga 50 years ago, in his speech as then congressman and chairman of the Legal Committtee of the Philippine Delegation to the Anglo-Philippine Talks held in London.
The speech, delivered on radio and television on March 30, 1963, was a point-by-point reply to the report of then Senator Lorenzo Sumulong on the Philippine claim to Sabah (also known as North Borneo).
At the time, the Federation of Malaysia was scheduled to be formally created on August 31, 1963 from the states of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo. The plan was for the four states to have co-equal standing in the federation.
Singapore would become an independent state on August 9, 1965.
The speech was made to assert the Philippine claim during this time, and revive the claim after Britain claimed sovereign rights over Sabah shortly after Philippines' independence from the United States.
Salonga headed the team that went to London to pore over the documents related to the Philippines' Sabah claim.
Salonga would later become Senate President in the post-EDSA People Power Revolt and preside at the historic 1991 Senate vote that ended nearly a century of US bases presence in the Philippines.
In 1963, he cited the following proofs and arguments that Sabah remained under the dominion and sovereignty of the Sultan of Sulu:
1. In 1881, when the Spanish and Dutch governments protested the award of the Royal Charter to the British North Borneo Company, the British clarified that "sovereignty remains with the Sultan of Sulu" and that the company was merely an administrative authority.
Salonga recalled that Baron de Overbeck, the Austrian "adventurer" who persuaded the Sultan of Sulu in 1878 to lease Sabah to him for an annual rent of 5,000 Malaysian dollars, sold his rights to Alfred Dent, the English merchant who started the British North Borneo Co. Dent thus assumed all the rights and obligations under the 1878 contract.
2. In 1946, the company "transferred all its rights and obligations to the British Crown." To this, Salonga said the company - as well as the heirs of Overbeck and Dent - is not a sovereign entity and therefore could not acquire "dominion and sovereignty" over the island. He cited "authoritative British and Spanish documents" showing so.
The company's "rights were as those indicated in the basic contract... that of lessee and a mere delegate," he said.
3. North Borneo was never part of British territory and its people were never British subjects until July 10, 1946, or six days after Philippines independence, when Britain unlawfully "asserted full sovereign rights over" the island.
But "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 force of a new title," according to Salonga.
This even prompted former American Governor-General F.B. Harrison, then Special Adviser to the Philippine Government on Foreign Affairs, "to denounce the cession order as a unilateral set in violation of legal right."
Four years after, in 1950, then Congressman Diosdado Macapagal, along with Congressmen Arsenio Lacson and Arturo Tolentino, sponsored a resolution urging the formal institution of the claim to Sabah.
4. Sabah thus cannot be part of the Federation of Malaysia as "conceived, inspired, and sponsored" by the British.
At that time in 1962, then President Diosdado Macapagal filed a claim over Sabah after the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution urging him to recover the island.
5. However, Salonga also noted that the Sultan of Sulu or his heirs cannot make a claim over Sabah before the International Court of Justice because "only States may be parties in cases before the Court," as per Chapter 2, Article 34, paragraph 1 of the Statute of ICJ, in relation Chapter 14 of the UN Charter.
Salonga's arguments concluded thus: "The claim for North Borneo is not of the President, the Liberal Party, nor of his Administration, but a claim of the entire Republic, based on respect for the rule of law, the sacredness of facts, and the relentless logic of our situation in this part of the world."