December 2, 2022

ZAMBOANGA CITY: A Philippine vessel carrying nearly 400 Filipinos who were arrested on various charges in Sabah, Malaysia arrived here on Friday.

Most of those deported by the Malaysian government were illegal entrants to Sabah, a wealthy state being claimed by the Sultanate of Sulu.

Social workers said among those deported were eight children.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development said 387 arrived Friday night and were taken to a shelter until they were all processed and sent home to their respective places of origin.

Last month, Malaysia also deported 355 Filipinos, according to Capt. Benzar Mukarram of the Zamboanga City Maritime Police.

In September, Kuala Lumpur deported 750 illegal Filipino immigrants arrested in various places in Sabah as Malaysia continues to fight off rightful financial claims of the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate. All of them had been detained in Tawau, Sandakan, Papar and Kota Kinabalu since 2020.

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The mass deportation came after a Spanish arbitration in Paris ordered the Malaysian government to pay $15 billion to eight of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram 2nd’s relatives in February. The award is the second largest in arbitration history.

Although Malaysia has filed an appeal against the ruling, its repercussions have already been felt.

The state oil company of Malaysia, Petronas, had assets reportedly seized by a Luxembourgian court recently. The lawsuit focuses around a deal established in 1878 in which Sulu agreed to let the British North Borneo Company, a colonial business, exploit its slice of Borneo in exchange for a yearly fee, according to reports.

The Sultanate would cede the territory under the terms of the English version of the contract. The original only makes a leasing commitment.

Malaysia inherited Sabah and its associated debts when it gained independence from Britain in 1963, and for 50 years it sent 5,300 ringgit ($1,200) annually to the sultan’s legitimate heirs.

Elisabeth Mason, an attorney for the claimants, said this sets Sabah apart from other land grabs during the 19th century. It’s a rare, possibly unique instance of a colonial contract that continues unbroken into the current era, she claimed.

After a relative, Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd, claimed to be the rightful sultan of Sulu and led a tragicomic invasion of Sabah in which 60 people lost their lives, Malaysia stopped making payments to the heirs in 2013.

The heirs threatened legal action, claiming breach of contract. After ignoring them for two years, Malaysia decided to skip out on hearings in Europe, giving the claimants’ attorneys free rein to make their case.

The international arbitration agreement to which Malaysia is a party means that it will likely have to accept the outcome of any case brought before it. The court decided that the heirs were entitled to 15 percent of all profits made from fossil fuels and palm oil since 2013, as well as all profits expected to be made in the future.