Ex-Foreign Minister Anifah Aman blames then caretaker Sabah CM over Sulu Sultanate heirs' claim, adds former AG should 'learn language of diplomatic relations'

Datuk Seri Anifah Aman (pic) weighs in on the recent claims regarding by the heir of the so-called Sulu Sultanate on Sabah.

In his statement tonight, the former Malaysian Foreign Minister, shares the historical background of the episode. 

He goes on to blame the Sabah Caretaker Chief Minister’s at the time as being "lack of experience" in handling the matter and adds that ex-Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas should "learn the language of diplomatic relations and how to handle international relations to avoid further blunders in future with regards to Malaysia's sovereignty". 

Here is Anifah's statement, in full:

Historical background

Sabah, which was known as North Borneo, before it joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963, was part of the Sultanate of Brunei in the 15th century. In 1704, the Sultan of Brunei ceded the lands east of Marudu Bay to the Sultan of Sulu, while the west coast remained under his rule.

On Jan 22, 1878, the Paduca Majasari Maulana, Sultan Jalalul Alam, Sultan of Sulu entered into an agreement with Baron de Overback and Alfred Dent of the British North Borneo Company. In 1946, the company surrendered the territory to the British Crown after it was unable to reconstruct the shattered state after the war with the Japanese.

Payment of Cession Money

According to British Archives documents, the 1878 Agreement between the Sultan of Sulu and Baron de Overback stipulated that the Sultan cede the territory in North Borneo in perpetuity. Under the Agreement, the heirs and successors of the Sultan were entitled to receive the sum of five thousand Mexican pesos annually and accruing from the supplementary deed of 1903, an additional sum of three hundred was given annually – thus bringing the annual payment to five thousand and three hundred.

Sultan Jamarul Alam died in 1881 and was succeeded by his son Badrudi Din who passed away in 1884. When the Spanish Government intervened and appointed the unpopular Sultan Datu Harun ar-Rashid in 1886, there was considerable disorder. Finally in 1894, the succession of Sultan Jamalul Kiram was recognized by the Spanish Government until the time of his death in 1936, he enjoyed the monies payable under the terms of the deeds of 1878 and 1903.

In November 1919, Sultan Jamalul Kiram made a will on the disposition of his property in the Philippines, Borneo and Singapore. He named his niece, Dayang-dayang Hadji Piandano Kiram for half his estate and another half to be divided between his other two nieces, Putli Tarhata Kiram and Putli Sakirnur-in Kiram. Sultan Jalalul Kiram died in 1936 and the payment was stopped until 1939 because he had no heir. The death of Sultan Jamalul Kiram created confusion.

Firstly, the Philippine Government would no longer recognise the title of Sultan or attribute to the holder, i.e. to anyone recognised by the people of Sulu as Sultan, any of the attenuated prerogatives enjoyed by the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram. Secondly, complications developed on the distribution of cession money.

Finally, in a judgment made by Judge C.F. Macaskie, Chief Justice of the High Court of Borneo on Dec 18, 1939, nine persons were entitled to the cession money including the three nieces mentioned in Sultan Jamalul Kiram’s will. 

The Malaysian government pays the cession money annually to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu since 1968. Based on the Macaskie judgment, there are nine heirs. By this time they have all passed away. At present, all the cession money entitled to the nine original heirs are taken over by their administrators.

Towards the late 1990s, there were efforts by the Philippine side to unite the Sulu heirs surrounding the propriety claim. The purpose was to ensure a united outlook among the heirs and for them to have a common platform and greater leverage in dealing with the Aquino government on their propriety interests as well as in the negotiations with Malaysian government on the settlement. It could not be ruled out that the efforts were largely driven by monetary attractions in view of the expected substantial amount of settlement money that would be involved.

The emergence of various claimants being the Sulu Sultan are a product of misinformation and misinterpretation of the spoils of the claim. The “fake” Sultan believes that all the riches of the claims will come to the Sulu Sultan. Hence there is a long queue clamoring for the “crown”. 

Lahad Datu intrusion

On Feb 9, 2013, 235 people claiming to be members of the “Royal Sulu Sultanate Army” staged an armed intrusion in Lahad Datu. The attack was met with armed retaliation from the Malaysian authorities after negotiations towards a peaceful surrender over the period of about one month failed.


I've always maintained that we do not recognise and will not entertain any claims by any party on Sabah. Sabah is recognised by the United Nations (UN) and the international community as part of Malaysia since the formation of the Federation on Sept 16, 1963. The people of Sabah chose in 1963 to form Malaysia instead of being part of the Philippines.

During my time as the Foreign Minister, the Philippines was never this bold unlike current times. This was brought on due to the Sabah caretaker chief minister two years ago's recklessness in acknowledging the claim by wanting to discuss and negotiate with the Philippines which automatically acknowledges the claim, whereas my approach which has always been the right approach was not to recognise any claim.  

I blame the Sabah caretaker chief minister’s at the time (for his) lack of experience or know how for this blunder which has led to the Philippines becoming braver with its baseless claims on Sabah. This proves how ignorant the then Sabah caretaker chief minister is on our history and international laws, as well as potentially harming our sovereignty.

At the time, I advised the then caretaker chief minister to take time and learn the language of diplomatic relations and how to handle international relations to avoid further blunders in future with regards to our sovereignty. This advice also applies to the then Attorney General Tommy Thomas as well who did not think of the implications of his letter to Paul Cohen which was also copied to Dr Gonzalo Stampa, the arbitrator. 

I’ve said this before, and recent events only proves that what I had warned the then Federal and state governments of, has happened.


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