Let us just assume for a moment, for the sake of discussion, that the Sulu heirs somehow manage to produce an official Brunei-Sulu grant proving the rightful cession of part of North Borneo to the Sultanate of Sulu.
The first question the Sulus would have to answer then is, why in the world was the 1903 British North Borneo Treaty explicitly refered to as, “A CONFIRMATION by Sultan of Sulu of CESSION of certain islands?”
“WE, the Sultan of Sulu, state with truth and clearness that we have ceded to the Government of British North Borneo of our own pleasure all the islands that are near the territory of North Borneo from Banguey Island as far as Sibuco Bay. These are the names of them: Muliangin, Muliangin Kechil, Malawali, Tegabu, Bilian, Tegaypil, Lang Kayen, Boan, Lehiman, Bakungan, Bakungan Kechil, Libaran, Taganack, Beguan, Mantanbuan, Caya, Omadal, Si Amil, Mabol, Kepalai, Dinawan, and the other islands that are situated alongside, or round or between the islands that are above- mentioned.
This is done because the names of the islands were not mentioned in the Agreement made with Baron de Overbeck and Mr. Alfred Dent on the 19th Maharam, 1295, corresponding with the 22nd January, 1878, It was known and understood between the two parties that the islands were included in the cession of the districts and islands mentioned in the above-stated Agreement.
NOW because what is above written is true and certain, we have set our seal to this notification. Made at Sandakan the 22nd April, 1903.”
On that date, April 22nd 1903, additional CESSION MONEY amounting to 300 Malayan Dolllars per annum was committed (in addition to the previously committed 5000 Malayan Dollars), and an ‘ARREARS FOR PAST OCCUPATION’ amounting to 3200 Malayan Dollars was made to the Sulu Sultan.
Can a contract with UNTIL THE END OF TIME be revoked?
The second question to be answered is, can a contract with an explicit term of ‘UNTIL THE END OF TIME,’ or in Malay, “Selagi wujud bulan dan bintang (as long as the moon and stars, exist)”, be revoked?
For better or worst, the 1878 and 1903 Treaties, now legally binding contracts, did not allocate a means of termination for the Sultanate. So absolute were the contracts that according to British North Borneo’s first Governor, “Lands in Sandakan were sold with 999-year grants.”
It did, however, provide the Sultanate with an avenue to channel future grievances, if any, to the British Consul-General for Borneo.
And that was precisely what a Sulu Princess did, when at the demise of her father, the last Sultan of Sulu, the British North Borneo Company stopped the annual Cession Money, which she had referred to as PENSION. She won the 1936 case (awarded in 1939), and the Cession Money continued ever since. Even after North Borneo was later ‘incorporated’ into Malaysia.
But…wouldnt the treaties become automatically void, as soon as they were transferred from Baron de Overbeck to Alfred Dent to British North Borneo Company to British Government and later, to Malaysia?
This is perhaps one of the British’s cleverest (or mischievous, if you wish) way of strategizing. Both Overbeck and Dent were considered as representatives of a British Company. In addition, the assignment of approval to ‘Her Britannic Majesty’s Government’, as submitted in the contract (see the clause below), basically handed the British Government the right to appoint and approve her assignees, in this case to Malaysia.
“The said territories are hereby declared vested in the said Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent Esquire co-jointly their heirs, associates, successors or assigns for as long as they choose or desire to hold them. Provided however that the rights and privileges conferred by this grant shall never be transferred to any other nation or company of foreign nationality without the sanction of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government first being obtained.”
Therefore, as long as Malaysia continues to pay the 5300 Malaysian currency of Cession Money, each and every year, there is absolutely nothing that the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate can do to reclaim any part of North Borneo. At best, they can only pray for the kindness of the Muslim Malaysian brothers to give them more that what is currently due.
Regardless, putting a gun next to the Malaysians’ head, so as to demand for more money, is neither clever nor Islamic. In the same manner, the hideous mutilations of the Malaysian police forces’ corpses, would win the Sulu terrorists, neither sympathy nor support from the Malaysian public.