Sunday, April 29, 2018


By Roger Pe
Business Mirror
April 29, 2018 issue

Mona Sulaiman, the Philippines’ sprint darling of the 60s, had just won three Gold medals in the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta. As she was preparing for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Philippine Softball was likewise busy making a name for the country.

Filipinos will remember these marquee surnames during that time: Tayo (Julita was acknowledged as one of the world’s best pitchers for almost a decade), Jacinto, Kilayco, Elnar, Maco, among the many players in the national team. 

In every National Open Softball Championship, San Miguel, Bulacan, MPQCCA (Manila, Pasay, Caloocan Cities Athletic Association, predecessor of NCR), Rizal and Negros provinces were the most formidable teams. The others were reduced to minnows.

As competition was becoming fiercer, Rizal had built an arsenal of strong batters and talented all-around players. In a few years, it would change the softball landscape and lord over the Philippine softball kingdom, so much so that the nucleus of Philippine team would be formed around it. 

Under its godfather, the visionary Governor Isidro Rodriguez took good care of them like they were his own children, just as he did with Track and Feld and Volleyball athletes. 
The province would become synonymous to Philippine Softball. Mariquita Salazar, who, at one time or another was named the best shortstop in Asia, pitcher Doris Reynes, Aleli Nabong, Cariday Rey, Purita Jacinto, Nenita Gatus, Emma Elnar, Carmelita Velasco as well as catchers Leticia Gempisao and Anita Relova, to mention a few, were on the limelight. They were rockstars of Philippine softball, and their names became famous, not only in Southeast Asia but in Asia as well.

The “Blu Girls” soon became a buzzword, a moniker coined by Rodriguez who was then also president of the Amateur Softball Association-Philippines (ASA-Phil). Their biggest achievement was a Bronze medal won in the World Championship held in Osaka, Japan in 1970, the highest the country has ever garnered to this day. Another Blu Girls team placed fourth in the same World Championship held in Bridgeport, Connecticut after four years. 

The Blu Girls never ranked lower than 10th for the entire decade of the 70s on global rankings. While they always placed second behind Japan, they were the undisputed champions in Southeast Asia.

Julita Tayo, the chubby pitcher from San Miguel, Bulacan, outfielder Aleli Nabong, and first base woman Carmelita Velasco, were the only Pinays whose names appeared in the International Softball Federation book for their outstanding performances in global competitions. Nabong was cited for belting out the most doubles in a world championship. Velasco earned her place on home runs.

The Blue Girls’ third place winning feat in the prestigious championship not only made the Philippines as one of the finest softball-playing countries in the world but also gave hope to Filipinos that they, too, can bring more glory to the country from international sporting arena.

During their heyday, one of the Blue Girls’ fans was the late President Marcos himself. When they returned home, a tumultuous crowd greeted them at the Manila International Airport and Marcos gave them an audience in Malacanang Palace. The impact of their big win in Osaka was so resounding the President regarded them as new heroes in sports. 

The Filipinas could have made it to the finals against Japan had they defeated the US in the afternoon playoff. They had earlier dumped the U.S. with a 1-0 score but the former got back at them with a vengeful same score in the do-or-die match.

After winning all SEA Games Softball Gold medals (whenever host countries did not scrap it), the Blu Girls name would lose its luster. The great names that wowed the entire country and the world disappeared. Some of them are still around. Others reduced to mere spectators as the sport they love best “plunged to oblivion, dying due to neglect and apathy of its leaders,” according to veteran sportswriter Eddie Alinea.

Spiral downhill

In 1998, the Philippines sent a ragtag ‘Blu Girls’ team whose members came from nowhere, to participate in the International Softball Federation (ISF) World Championship in Fujinomiya City, Japan. It ended up sixteenth. Though it managed a solitary win, it wound up at the bottom of the standing.

Previously, no Blu Girls team had suffered such a humiliation and shame. Before this, there were many other forgettable foreign stints by both the Philippine men and women squads.

Once joined by fellow Asian powerhouses Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea in the top 10 world ratings in women’s and men’s divisions, the Philippines had been languishing at the bottom of the standing owing to mediocre leaderships that succeeded the Governor Isidro Rodriguez era.

The major reason for the deterioration of the sport according to Alinea is the Philippine Sports Commission’s policy of dismantling the national training pool whenever a particular event is scrapped from the calendar of events in the SEA, Asian Games or Olympics.

“Once a particular sport is removed from the calendar of events, the players’ monthly allowances are also removed, forcing athletes to seek playing opportunities elsewhere, mostly overseas. And because they’re under contract to play in the country where they’re employed, they, most often, lost their slots in the pool,” he said.


Softball continued to skid towards the year 2000. As the sport was dying and looking for someone who honestly cared for Philippine softball like Governor Rodriguez did, Raul Saberon, a successful trader and once a national softball/baseball team mainstay during his prime, found a sincere and eager benefactor to help softball out of the rut where it had stuck for over a decade. Jean Henri Lhuillier.

Saberon singled out Lhuillier as the most avid supporter of softball in the country today, just as Manuel V. Pangilinan is to basketball. 

Under Lhuillier, the rebuilding process started inch-by-inch. Though it failed to qualify in the 2006 Doha Asian Games, it was slowly making progress - by setting its eyes on bigger things, aiming ambitiously: Rekindle the glory of the world-famous Blu Girls of the 70s, and barge into the Olympics.

In 2007, Amateur Softball Association of the Philippines (ASA-Phil) chief Jean Henri Lhuillier bankrolled the Philippines team in the five-team Beijing Olympic qualifier. Former Blu Girl Nabong handled the team composed of a combination of Asian Games veterans and fast-rising youngsters (softball was scrapped in 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics).
They did not make it but it was quite noticeable that the RP Blu Girls were beginning to get its groove back. 

Pay dirt

Last year, during the 11th Asian Women’s Softball Championship held in Taichung City, Taiwan was the beginning of a milestone. The team wound up second to Japan after beating two superpowers in the sport - China, and Chinese Taipei, marking the first time in 45 years that the country had bagged silver in the tournament participated in by eleven countries.

Nobody expected the Philippines to be in the top three. “It showed that the Blu Girls can compete among the best in the world, and with the preparation that the team is doing and with the support that we have been getting from Jean Henri Lhuillier, I know the team is ready,” coach Randy Dizer said in a broadcast statement.

With their podium finish, the Cebuana-Lhuillier-backed Filipina softbelles earned a slot in the 2018 World Softball Championship in Japan and the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

The WBSC (World Baseball Softball Championship) coverage of the event was flattering to the Philippines. Here are some excerpts:

“World’s No. 1 Japan scored one run on the top of the first innint, but blew the game open scoring five in the third and a final run in the fourth. Yamato Fujita and Haruka Agatsuma each hit doubles in the game. Yukiko Ueno earned the win.

Prior to the Gold Medal game, the Philippines defeated No. 9 Chinese Taipei 5-3 to advance to the Finals. Philippines struck first scoring one run in the second inning, though Chinese Taipei tied the game up in the bottom half. Chinese Taipei took the lead in the fourth inning, scoring two. But the Philippines recovered, scoring four unanswered runs over the host nation — three runs in the 5th, and a home run in the 7th inning.

The 17th-ranked Blu Girls faced world No.6 China in the semifinals after demolishing Hong Kong, 17-0. Against the Chinese, the Filipinas were down 3-1 at the bottom of the last inning when Fil-Am Danny Gilmore hit a 2-run home run to tie the game, 3-3, and extend it to extra inning.

The Philippines held China scoreless on the top of the 8th with perfect pitching from Anne Antolihao before Chelsea Suitos and Sky Ellazar teamed-up to bring Cheska Altomonte home for the come-from-behind win.

In the playoff match, the Philippines faced world No. 9 Chinese Taipei for the right to face world No.1 Japan. The hometown team easily built a commanding 3-1 lead in the first 4 innings before the Blu Girls came back with four runs in the fifth, capped by a home run by Chelsea Suitos for a 5-1 advantage.

The Philippines kept Chinese Taipei scoreless until the end, arranging a championship match against Japan later in the day. But fatigue caught up with the Blu Girls who eventually succumbed to the world’s number 1 team as they settled for a runner-up finish.”

2020 Tokyo Olympics

“I really think we can beat the best teams in the world,” says Francesca Altomonte, team captain of the women’s softball team and veteran of many international softball competitions the country has participated in the last four years. If her name sounds familiar, she is a niece of advertising industry icon Emily A. Abrera. 

“I am confident of our chances in big tournaments, that’s the reason why am still playing,” Altomonte says. The big girl who started playing baseball as a pitcher, shortstop, and manned the third base at age 10, played with her brothers during her younger years. She converted to softball effortlessly and was recruited by Ateneo to play for UAAP for five years. 

She tried out for the national team in 2010 but did not make the grade because she was barely seventeen. Four years later, honed by training and exposure to tough leagues, Chesca, as she is often called by her teammates, was taken in, along with players from the champion Adamson team and other standouts from UAAP. 

At age 25, “I am the oldest in the team,” Altomonte says, who has travelled with the new Philippine Blu Girls team carrying the country’s flag in many competitions abroad.

Team captain Altomonte diligently wakes up at 5 in the morning, and trains at Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium five days a week (Monday to Friday. She divides her time working with a marketing company but at the same time delights at the thought of competing again with some of the world’s best teams in the sport, notably Japan, USA, Canada, Australia, China, Mexico, Venezuela, Czech Republic. “I am a thrilled because most players in these teams are Olympians,” she gushes. 

Spartan training

When competition is near, Altomonte and her teammates also train on weekends and have practice games to polish their skills. How do other countries train, do they follow have same regimen? Altomonte says, “It’s quality over quantity and more scientific. In the US, for example, batters train for just about two hours. Players are given 100 balls to strike within that time frame, a great drill that turn players into strong hitters,” she says.

What about injuries? Altomonte said she had it all. She had battled shoulder problems, suffered tendonitis, pulled hamstring, and twisted her ankle but that did not deter her. She always wore a mental toughness attitude, a trait you’d often see in tough leaders.

The moment she steps into the softball diamond, you can almost hear her say: “We can beat you. We are not intimidated by you.”

Altomonte and her team had beaten world medalists and came close to beating the US and world-ranked countries. Now it has boosted their confidence tremendously. “We would be scared stiff when facing Olympians and felt “we’re not good enough”. Not anymore today,” she says.

She laments that there is not much emphasis being put in the development of softball in the Philippines, a sport where the country has always won the SEA Games gold, Asean championships, belonged to Top 5 in Asia and ranked in the Top 20 of global rankings (unlike volleyball which has languished in No. 79 inspite of huge financial and media support being given by the government and private sectors).

“Indonesia had poached many Filipino coaches and hired former Blu Girl athletes as part of its coaching staff. The same with Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei,” she said. Altomonte is worried that if the trend continues, we might end up losing our best players.

The one thing that really inspires her is the company that she is working for right now. “They are so damn supportive,” she says sounding like as if she couldn’t thank them enough. “They always push me. They are my cheerleaders,” she exclaims. “It was really heartwarming actually hearing them say, they want my Olympic dream to come true,” she proudly says.

Meanwhile, Altomonte is deep into training for the 2018 World Women’s Softball Championship that will be held in Chiba, Japan on August 2 to12, 2018. The 16th edition of the tournament is the third to be sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation. 

The following countries have qualified for the tournament: Australia, New Zealand for Oceania, Netherlands, Italy and Great Britain for Europe, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, USA and Venezuela for the Americas, Chinese-Taipei, China and the Philippines for Asia, and Botswana and South Africa for Africa.

Last July 5-9, 2017, the Philippines participated in World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City, winning against highly-ranked countries like Australia and Mexico. Altomonte hit a two-run homer to give the 17th-ranked Pinays a two-run cushion on their way to posting their second win in the eight-team tournament.
The Filipinas shocked the No. 4 Australians, 7-5, on opening day but dropped their next four matches. The Pinays and the Mexicans again faced off in the ranking match, and won via an 8-7 score.
In the 2014 World Cup, the “Blu Girls” only won against Venezuela with a score of 3-0. They competed against Canada, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Mexico, Venezuela and the USA, which won the championship.

Considered a patron of Philippine sports, Jean Henri helps athletes representing the country in international tournaments and supports programs that aim to develop the youth through sports particularly basketball, tennis, and softball. He is married to award-winning gymnast Bea Lucero, who later on converted to Taekwondo and won a Bronze in 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


By Roger Pe
Business Mirror
April 19, 2018 issue

Until March this year, I have never been to Sulu, particularly Tawi-Tawi, a remote group of islands suffering from unfair travel advisories most of the time. Friends have told me, Sulu’s history and its sultanate (Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) would inevitably surface in any conversation, and the word “Kiram” would often be associated with it.

True enough, the name that always fascinated me, was casually mentioned in the van that was to take us to our hotel. That heightened my curiosity. As soon as we arrived at Rachel’s Place, a hotel I never knew existed in that seemingly lonely planet, I was ready to ask more questions. But the dissonant voices in the lobby reduced my queries to a mere thought balloon, lost in the din of voices getting louder and louder as we headed back to our rooms. For a moment, I had forgotten about “Kiram.”

When I was in grade school, I remember how the Philippines’ claim to Sabah was a smoldering issue. North Borneo was its old name, under the sultanate, and Federation of Malaysia was still not born. It always exploded on the pages Manila Times and Philippine Free Press, publications my mother partly distributed in my hometown.

I became a voracious reader especially when copies of them remained unsold. Needless to say, Sabah was a hot topic because the town was geographically akin to Borneo.

Sabah eventually became part of Malaysia. The newly formed Federation of Malaysia had annexed it in 1963 because of British connections, complex things and through a referendum some people said it stage-managed. Sources said the "referendum" did not involve the entire population of North Borneo at that time, but only representative consultations. The UN mission report also noted that, "there was no reference to a referendum or plebiscite in the request.”

The Philippines would break diplomatic relations with Malaysia. The issue had remained in the back burner ever since the three-nation ‘Maphilindo’ (Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia) group vanished into thin air. Malaysia had made strong statements: “It does not recognize and will not entertain any claim, nor bring the matter to the International Court of Justice even if the Philippines would.”

Fast forward to 2013

The Sabah standoff: Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, a descendant of the Sultan of Sulu from 1568, ordered his family and followers to keep the sultanate’s historic territorial claims to Sabah burning. His younger brother Esmail, and about 200 followers intruded into Sabah’s coastal village of Lahad Datu.
At this point, my interest of wanting to meet any of Kiram’s relatives was getting more intense. It heightened when a cameraman brought by Department of Tourism to the trip, Angelo “Toto” Ancino, my roommate, told me he had personally met Kiram’s daughter, Princess Jacel Kiram.

For days, I nagged him to death about Jacel. I finally got an answer after a week. On March 3, 2018, at three o’clock in the afternoon, I finally came face-to-face with her.

Meeting the Princess

Princess Jacel was wearing a hijab, all smiles and charming when we shook hands. What struck me most was she enunciated English words with crystal clear clarity and nary a regional accent. I almost told her: “You should voice for radio commercials.”

I would describe Jacel with much profundity but “normal” seems to be the better word. She is normal, yes. Normal, if your definition of being one is someone who speaks about peace, equality, and diversity is not an issue. She is intelligent, mild-mannered in her decorum throughout our conversation.

Jacel resides in Maharlika Village, Taguig City, a village created by the government as a subdivision for Muslim Filipinos in 1974. Her grandmother from her mother’s side was from Pangasinan. Her grandfather hailed from Sorsogon. Her father Sultan Jamalul Kiram III met her Christian mother when the latter was reviewing for CPA exams. Her name is a marriage of Muslim and Christian words: Jamalul and Celia.

Being a product of a religious inter-marriage, her clan celebrates Muslim and Christians occasions, like Hariraya and Christmas traditions. In an age when Christians and Muslims stand apart from each other on opposite sides of a very huge divide, hers is a shining example of harmonious co-existence. Beyond the differences, Jacel sees a common ground when it comes to moral values and principles - charity, devotion and faith, just as how other major world religions preach the same. 

When she graduated from De La Salle University College of Saint Benilde (she finished Bachelor of Artswith an Inter-Disciplinary Studies degree) in 2002, her The Sulu Sultanate’s Genealogy And Its Relation To The Philippines’ Claim To Sabah” was declared Best Thesis.

The daughter of the late 33rd Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III has become an icon of peace, inter-faith, women empowerment and social upliftment, livelihood and development of Muslims in the Philippines, especially in Mindanao.

“I wish people would get rid of their misconceptions about Muslims. We can co-exist,” she says. She laments about many incidents in the city that are still causing her deep pain to the point of being callous. Taxi drivers, for example, speed away and do not take her and her fellow Muslims as passengers if they find out they are going to Maharlika Village.

Her husband, Moh Yusop Hasan, a Lieutenant Coronel in the Philippine Army echoes her sentiments: “Muslim Filipinos had been branded as “bandidos” (bandits), pirates and other unpalatable names for centuries. We should correct the many social injustices that have been heaped on them. It’s about time that people erase the long-time propaganda that they are “terrorists,” he says.

Jacel, herself, was branded a “terrorist” by the Malaysian government when the Lahad Datu incident drew headlines.“I am not a terrorist.  I am just fighting for what is legally, historically and rightfully ours. This fight is not just my fight, but Filipinos’ fight as well,” she exclaims.

“If am being labelled as a ‘terrorist’ fighting for what is ours as Filipinos, let them. Let history be the judge,” she says. She is sad about younger generations of Filipinos who are afflicted with historical amnesia and have forgotten the glorious past of the sultanate. She maintains that the 2013 events in Lahad Datu were simply an assertion of our rights.

Weapon of the weak

“The word ‘terrorist’ is the weapon of the weak against the strong, a defense mechanism of people who make their own rules,” Hasan says. The real ‘terrorists’ are abusers. Muslim people are kind. That’s the difference. They only lose their patience against abuses. Lands were taken away from them. They could not fish from their own seas and do not benefit from their own natural resources. There is widespread inequality and wealth belongs only to a few,” he blurts out.

Jacel has attended many national and international events as a speaker. Among them as head of a Philippine delegation and guest of honor to the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students in the World Federation of Democratic Youth held in Sochi, Russia. She also went to China to celebrate the 600th Year of Sulu-China Friendship, coinciding with the book launching of “Friendship Without Borders,” in Guangxi. She then participated in a United Nations sponsored conference on Drug Control Program held in UN Headquarters, Vienna, Austria. She was also the Chairperson of People’s Coalition for Peace.

In the bigger scheme of things, Jacel says: “We should always go back to history to get a better perspective,” she exhales, sounding like exhausted because “much of our history is being distorted,” she says.

“Sana hindi na lang ako (I wish it should’ve not been me) so people won’t think of me as biased,” she says. But she is optimistic, that history will be corrected with regards to the Philippines’ territorial claim to Sabah. 

While historically, the Philippines has the right to reclaim Sabah, some people doubt if it can recover it now. “Unless we are ready to go to war,” one Filipino lawyer said.

“The best way to reclaim Sabah is do it now. The government must have the will to do it. Not giving up on our proprietary rights and fighting for what is due us are the things to do. As far as Malaysia is concerned, skirting the issue and not wanting to talk about it means only one thing: It does not own Sabah,” she quips.

Malaysian point-of-view

In “Another Brick In The Wall”, a Malaysian political party blog, the unnamed author unleashes fire and brimstone: “The word ‘permanent lease’ means “it cannot be reclaimed” and the words in the grant did not say lease but cede or give away for a certain consideration, and that the grant for a ‘permanent lease’ meant giving away Sabah.”

Raymond Tombung in his article in Free Malaysia Today said: “The Sabah claim will continue to be raised by the Philippines and Sulu as it is powerful and emotive international issue which many leaders from Manila will find convenient to bleed for political mileage. And the many “sultans” in Sulu will continue to cast their hungry eyes at Sabah, considered to be “the last gold coin” and aspire, albeit hopelessly, to try and achieve the impossible.”

Tombung continues: “If Sulu, by a very long shot, gets back Sabah, will it be able to pay Malaysia all the billions utilized to develop it since 1963? Sulu cannot be so arrogant and shameless to think that it can simply and freely take back a piece of land it “owned” 135 years ago after it has been developed by someone else for half a century, “ he says.

In a series of articles written by Joseph G.Lariosa, a Fil-Am correspondent of Journal GlobaLinks (JGL), a Chicago, Illinois-based news agency and a veteran journalist, he asks:

“Did the Malaysian government ever allow the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu to talk to their tenants in Sabah to find out their sentiments if they were really against the Sultanate by way of a referendum for the purpose? Did the Malaysian government allow the Sultanate air time in mass media in Sabah to explain to their tenants that because they are residing on a piece of land owned by a Filipino Sultanate of Sulu, they are supposed to pay rental directly to their landlord – the heirs to the Sultanate of Sulu – not to a third party or middleman such as the Malaysian government?”

Lariosa then drops a bomb: “If I were the heirs to the Sultanate of Sulu, while they are waiting for the ruling of the ICJ, I am not going to encash the 6,300 Malaysian ringgits to protest and humiliate the Malaysian government just as Fidel Castro refused and refuses to encash the US$2,000 annual rental payment of the U.S. to use the Guantanamo U.S. Base in order to humiliate the U.S. into giving up the perpetual rental under the Platt Amendment.”

“Come to think of it,”Lariosa declares. “When the Philippines leased the Clark Air Base and Subic Base to the U.S., which account for 245 square miles land area, the U.S. was paying $200-M annual rental to the Philippine government. While Sabah, which has 28,430 square miles, or 116 times bigger than the U.S. Bases, the Malaysian government is only renting Sabah for a song!” 

The Sabah issue has created another monster and Jacel’s heart bleeds for Filipino refugees who have become hostage to the territorial pendulum. “The world needs to know about the plight of the “Halaws”, people and children that have been driven away because of this,” she says.

Last year, the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur reported that over 569,451 or 18.2 percent of the total population of Sabah are Filipinos, both documented and undocumented.

Death of Sultan Jamalul
Kiram III

Sultan Jamalul KiramIII died months after the Lahad Datu siege. A younger brother, Esmail Kiram II, in a succession often beset by clan in-fighting and claims by fake descendants of the once-powerful Muslim royalty, succeeded him. When Esmail died on September 19, 2015, another brother, Phugdalon Kiram, was named as the new sultan.

Based on the Kiram family tree, Jamalul was the closest living kin to the sultan, the nephew of 33rd Sultan Esmail Kiram I, and at the same time, the son of crown prince Punjungan Kiram. Ex-Senator Santanina Rasul also noted that former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had recognized him as the real heir.

He was born on July 16 1938 in Maimbung, a small town in the province of Sulu and was the eldest son of Sultan Punjungan Kiram and Sharif Usna Dalus Strattan and was directly descended from the first Sultan of Sulu, Sharif ul-Hashim of Sulu, of the Banu Hashem tribe.

From Sulu High School he moved to Notre Dame in the capital of Jolo, and then enrolled at Manuel L Quezon University in Manila, where he studied Law, which he did not finish. Having joined the Ruma Betchara (Council of the Sultan) during the reign (1962-74) of his uncle, Sultan Esmail Kiram, he ruled as “interim sultan”, while his father, who ruled between 1974 and 1981, was absent in Sabah. In 1984, he was proclaimed the 33rd (or possibly the 39th) Sultan of Sulu and was crowned in Jolo in 1986.

Scholarly facts

In a historical discourse and most exhaustive journal written about the Sabah issue, “Philippines Claim to Sabah: Legal and Historical Bases” by Amando Respicio-Boncales, Graduate Student of Northern Illinois University, with Dr. Kenton James Klymer as Academic Adviser states that the Philippine-Malaysian dispute over the State of Sabah remains “a contentious diplomatic issue”.

Boncales’ objective of the study was to shed light on the historical background of the Philippines’ claim over Sabah by examining how various authors in the field presented the issue. Here are some excerpts:

The sultanate of Sulu was founded in 1380, nearly one and a half century before the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines. The sultanate possessed an efficient political organization, extending its influence in Zamboanga, Basilan, Palawan, aside from the Sulu archipelago and was granted the northeastern part of the territory as a prize for helping the Sultan of Brunei against his enemies in 1658.

When the British came and ruled what was to be Malaysia, the Philippine government says the contract of 1878 was a lease, and not a transfer of ownership or sovereignty. William Treacher, governor of Borneo from 1881 to 1887, who was present at the signing of the contract and a witness, characterized the contract as a lease and referred to the money payment as annual rentals.

The late Diosdado Macapagal, who served in the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1946 and later became President of the Philippines, filed a claim to the United Nations on June 22, 1962. It claimed sovereignty, jurisdiction and proprietary ownership of North Borneo claiming it has the legal and historical rights to North Borneo.

Macaskie Dictum of 1939

Charles Macaskie, one of North Borneo's most successful colonial officials, on the other hand, had a different view. The Chief Justice in 1934 and Deputy Governor in 1936, sat as judge in a 1939 case where nine heirs of Sultan Jamalul Kiram claimed money owed to them under the 1878 grant.

Through their attorney, the heirs showed only an English translation of the Grant of 1878 that incorrectly presented the claim as a cession instead of a lease. (A later translation made it clear that this was an incorrect translation). Years after the Macaskie dictum was made, the Philippine government made moves to translate the Grant of 1878. The result showed it was a Lease Agreement.

Francis Harrison, former United States Governor General of the Philippines, eventually repudiated the Macaskie judgment stating, “Upon examination of our own translation of the original document (in photostat) it will be seen that Maxwell and Gibson, the English authors on whose text the decision of Justice Mackaskie was based, have changed the language so as to make the document a grant cession instead of lease, as it really was, and as the word “padjak” in the original, really means.” 

“In view of this vital divergence from the original text, I do not find myself able to give full faith and credit to the opinion of Justice Mackaskie in the famous case in 1939 in Sandakan,” he said.

Moreover, in a letter addressed to then Vice President and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Elpidio Quirino, dated February 27, 1947, Harrison explained:

“In reviewing the subject of the claims of the Sultanate of Sulu to their ancient patrimony in North Borneo, one must come to the conclusion that the action of the British Government in announcing on the sixteenth of July (annexation of North Borneo to the British Crown), just twelve days after the inauguration of the Republic of the Philippines, a step taken by the British Government unilaterally, and without any special notice to the Sultanate of Sulu, nor consideration of their legal rights, was an act of political aggression which should promptly be repudiated by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.”

Harrison concluded:  “The Malaysian claim to Sabah, based on the British claim, is not sustainable. The territory was only leased to the British North Borneo Company and not ceded as the Great Britain, and later Malaysia, had claimed.” The claimants also argued that the sultanate’s territory had been leased only to Britain, with no agreement on incorporation into Malaysia.

Current status

Every year, the Malaysian Embassy in the Philippines issues a check in the amount of 5,300 Malaysian Ringgit (about P77,000) to the legal counsel of Jamalul Kiram’s descendants.

Before he became spokesperson of President Duterte, Harry Roque, then a law professor at the University of the Philippines, said: “In my opinion, this is more consistent with a lease rather than a sale, because you can’t have a purchase price which is not fixed, and which is payable until kingdom come,” he said.

Though the Lahad Datu incursion failed and former President Benigno Aquino weighed in against her father saying the insurgency had caused “death and suffering among his own people, Princess Jacel says “it brought attention to the largely dormant issue of the claim by the Philippines to parts of Borneo, based on the Sultanate of Sulu’s past control over the area.

Decades and centuries may go, but Jacel says her family remembers its history as clear as it were yesterday. No change of presidency, not even the odds posed by the Malaysian security forces are going to make them forget that Sabah used to belong to the Sulu Sultanate.