(First published in The Philippine Star issue of Feb. 24, 2013)

MONEY MATTER: Is the Philippine claim on Sabah destined for another “pera-pera lang” resolution -- in the same tenor that Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. says that the quarrel of election hardware supplier Smartmatic and its software developer is just a matter of money or how much?

What happens if Malaysia makes a material offer that the heirs of the Sulu sultan pursuing their property rights over Sabah cannot refuse?

There had been occasions when the sultanate asked Kuala Lumpur to raise its rent payments for that corner of Borneo. This means the sultan’s heirs have not closed the door to a commercial resolution of the question.

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‘PADJAK’: Malaysia still pays the sultan’s heirs an annual rent of 5,300 ringgits, equivalent to some P70,000, an amount that a congressman can throw away in one evening of moderate partying.

We call it rent, using the understanding of the property owners of the Tausug term “padjak” used in the contract that their forebears signed with British East India Trading Co. in 1878. While the term means “lease,” the British insist on interpreting it as “grant” or “cede.”

The lease was taken over later by the British North Borneo Co. which transferred to Britain in 1946 all its rights over Sabah. When the Federation of Malaya was created in 1963, Britain made Sabah part of it.

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RENT HIKE: Are the sultan’s heirs interested in a rent increase? A backgrounder by women and Muslim rights advocate Amina Rasul mentions several attempts to raise the rent. She wrote:

“In 1996, Princess Denchurai Kiram, daughter of Princess Tarhata Kiram and administrator of her estate, wrote then Prime Minister Mahathir to raise the rental to $1,000,000. She also stated that she and the other heirs were willing to renounce the claim if Kuala Lumpur will provide a fair settlement. The letter was ignored by Mr. Mahathir.

“In June 2010, the Sulu provincial board passed a resolution supporting the demand of the heirs to increase the yearly payment to at least $500 million.

“Weeks earlier, Nur Misuari (chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front) issued a statement calling the attention of Malaysia to settle the Sabah issue. Misuari’s first wife, the late Desdemona Tan, and present wife Ruayda, are heirs to Sabah since they are descendants of Dayang-Dayang (Queen) Hadja Piandao, who was acknowledged to have 3/8 share of Sabah.

“In January 2001, Sultan Esmail Kiram II, the brother of Jamalul III, also wrote Mr. Mahathir, this time through President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.… (The) demand was for $855 million.”

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SOVEREIGNTY-PROPRIETARY RIGHTS: Are the sultan’s heirs pursuing a sovereignty or just a property claim, or both? In the discussion about rent, some readers may get the impression that the heirs are interested only in collecting the proper rent.

If the heirs assert their sovereign rights, how will these jibe with the rights of the Philippines as also a sovereign state?

When President Noynoy Aquino or his representatives take up the Sabah question with their Malaysian counterparts, will they discuss both sovereignty and proprietary claims? We have no hint of Malacañang’s direction.

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HEIRS’ ATTORNEY: President Aquino has started to dust off what his spokesmen have described as a “dormant” claim. He reportedly ordered the resumption of studies on the subject.

It was not in the Rasul backgrounder, but it was reported decades ago that the sultan’s heirs living at the time retained then President Ferdinand Marcos to act as their attorney in pursuing their proprietary rights.

President Aquino can assume a similar role, but this may run counter to his desire to deliver a Bangsamoro sub-state in Muslim Mindanao before the end of his term in 2016.

This has been one of the reasons for objections to Malaysia acting as facilitator in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for a Muslim sub-state in Mindanao.

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SOVEREIGN RIGHTS: In her backgrounder, Rasul wrote: “Esmail Kiram (leader of the heirs at the time) officially transferred the sultanate’s authority and sovereignty to the Philippines on Sept. 12, 1962, through a written instrument signed by himself and Foreign Affairs Secretary Emmanuel Pelaez.

“The transfer was authorized by a resolution passed by the Ruma Bechara (literally “House of Talk,” equivalent to council of advisers/Cabinet). He thus gave up the Sulu sultanate’s sovereign rights to Sabah to the government, but retained proprietary rights over the same.

“However, there was a provision in the Ruma Bechara resolution that in the event the government fails or refuses to protect its claim, the Sultanate of Sulu reserves the right to prosecute its claim over Sabah, in whatever manner it can think of.”

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ANG HITS SNAG: It seems the aggressive style of San Miguel Corp.’s Ramon S. Ang is catching up on him as Citra Group stockholder launches an inquiry into unusual SMC-Citra deals in the country.

PT Citra Marga Nusaphla Persada Tbk (CMNP) has threatened to divest the company’s shares from Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corp. (CMMTC).

CITRA reportedly suspects that they were “short-changed” in the selling of 11 percent of CMNP shares to PT Mana Sarana Arsitama for $3.25 million on July 20, 2010.

CMNP is a former minority stockholder of CMMTC, the partner of San Miguel Corp. Citra (CMMTC) is an Indonesian firm whose core business includes expressway development and toll road operations.

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INDON PROBE: In an interview with Bisnis Indonesia, CMNP president Jusuf Hamka said the company would hire lawyers from Indonesia and the Philippines to look into the case.

Jusuf also disclosed that 25 percent of shares owned by Citra Group at CCMTC were sold for $135 million to SMC.

Citra is the concession holder and operator of the Skyway, the elevated toll road linking the national capital to areas south of it. It is a six-lane, elevated expressway above the South Luzon Expressway.

San Miguel and Citra have partnered to develop big ticket projects such as the Skyway, Southern Tagalog Arterial Road, and the elevated highway to North Luzon Expressway.

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