I. North Borneo Claim


(Excerpt from President Diosdado Macapagal’s State-of-the-Nation
Message to the Congress of the Philippines, January 28, 1963)

THE MOST IMPORTANT action taken in the field of foreign relations in the past year was the official filing on June 22, 1962 with the United Kingdom of the Philippine claim of sovereignty, jurisdiction and proprietory ownership over North Borneo as successor-in-interest of the Sultan of Sulu. We are gratified at the goodwill shown by the United Kingdom in holding the talks in London in pursuance of our note on June 22, 1962, in which talk an opportunity has been opened for a friendly scrutiny of the Philippine claim, together with the security problems of Southeast Asia.

Contrary to allegations in some political quarters, this was not a precipitate action. We have personally studied this claim over a period of years. While serving in the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1946, upon a study of this claim in connection with our successful negotiation for the reacquisition of the Turtle Islands, we advocated the filing of this claim.

In 1948, while serving in the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC, we went over the claim with an American expert in Anglo-Saxon law in George Washington University who sustained the view that this is a valid claim. When we served in the Congress of the Philippines, we successfully authored and sponsored in 1950, a resolution for the filing of this claim. Upon becoming President of the Philippines, acting on the conviction that this was not only a valid claim but that its presentation was demanded by the national interest, it became our inescapable duty to act on the bipartisan resolution of the House of Representatives on April 24, 1962, that the claim be filed now or never.

The situation is that the Philippines not only has a valid and historic claim to North Borneo. In addition, the pursuit of the claim is itself vital to our national security. We could not merely view the placing of North Borneo under Malaya, without presentation and consideration of our legitimate claim to North Borneo. Our claim to North Borneo cannot be less than the claim of Malaya to the territory not only on the basis of superior juridical and historic rights but in the vital interest of our national security.

Malaya has no valid claim or right to take over North Borneo, Furthermore, if through arbitrary arrangement, the Borneo territory is placed under Malaya, the latter cannot likely insure for long the security of North Borneo for the free world. A profound and farsighted contemplation of the present and potential security posture in the whole region will conclusively support the judgment that the restoration of North Borneo as part of the territory of the Philippines would be the durable measure that could best insure against territorial disequilibrium and restlessness in the area and could constitute the firm and stabilizing factor to maintain and safeguard the security of the region.

The project to place North Borneo, together with Brunei and Sarawak, under Malaya has already provoked a revolt in Brunei. It can be expected that Indonesia will not settle down accepting the authority of Malaya over Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo. Moreover, the proposed Federation of Malaysia is not in accordance with the principle of self-determination, which is the accepted way out of colonialism, but appears to be a continuation of colonialism based only on an expedient of false security.

It was imperative that the Philippine claim be, as it was, made because if North Borneo was not to be by itself independent but was to be placed under another state there is no valid reason why, with the legal and historic basis of the Philippine claim, and considering that North Borneo is contiguous to Philippine territory and vital to our security, I the new State to be given jurisdiction over North Borneo should not be the Philippines.

It is vital to the security of the Philippines that North Borneo be not placed under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of another state, particularly a state on the Asian mainland like Malaya. In the event, God forbid, that Malaya succumbs to the potent communist threat on the Asian mainland, with North Borneo under Malaya, there would be created a situation in which a communist territory would be immediately at the southern frontier of the Philippines, which would pose a grave and intolerable threat to our country. Against such a threat, we know that our people will fight to the death, for they will rather die fighting for freedom than live in slavery.

In laying claim to the North Borneo in pursuance of the legal and historic rights and the security interests of the Philippines, we recognize the cardinal principle of self-determination of which the Philippines has been a steadfast adherent. In the prosecution of our valid claim, it is agreeable to us that at an appropriate time, the people of North Borneo should be given an opportunity to determine whether they would wish to be independent or whether they would wish to be a part of the Philippines or be placed under another state. Such referendum, however, should be authentic and bona fide by holding it under conditions, preferably supervised by the United Nations, that would insure effective freedom to the people of North Borneo to express their true and enlightened will.

Source: Philippine Claim to North Borneo, Vol. I