Why fear a referendum in Sabah?

Why fear a referendum in Sabah?

posted Jan 6, 2011 6:21 AM by Amando Boncales

The United PasokMomogun KadazanDusunMurut Organisation (Upko), a member of Barisan Nasional (BN), ostensibly fears that Filipinos in Sabah, ever growing in their numbers, will soon demand a referendum on the state’s participation in the Federation of Malaysia.

The fear apparently stems from the longstanding Philippine claim to Sabah.

These Filipinos, illegal immigrants who obtained MyKads through the backdoor, have either overtaken local numbers or are on the verge of doing so, according to Upko deputy president Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing.

Bumburing wants the National Registration Department (NRD) in Putrajaya and the federal government to undo, as promised, their MyKad mischief in Sabah before the next general election.

He must be living in a dream world of his own making. There must be something in the water in Tuaran, Bumburing’s parliamentary seat, which gives one a permanent high.

He has himself said that these Filipinos in Sabah are already on the electoral rolls as Malays and are the “real BN fixed deposit” that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has been bragging about.

Hence, his call to confiscate the MyKads from them is a sort of contradiction in terms.

In any case, Bumburing and his party should not fear any referendum on Malaysia conducted in Sabah. It will be a historical opportunity to bring closure on many issues bedevilling relations across the South China Sea. Let the weapon (MyKad) kill its wielder (Putrajaya), to paraphrase a Malay saying.

Sabah claim

Any referendum will be undertaken by the United Nations based on Security Council Resolutions. The General Assembly may also debate on it.

A UN-held referendum will disallow the Filipinos from participating in it since they are not legitimate citizens of Sabah. If anything, the run-up to the UN referendum will expose the complicity of the NRD in Putrajaya and the federal government in scams to effectively disenfranchise the people of Sabah. This would merit some sort of UN action against Malaysia under the various international conventions against racism, genocide, xenophobia, ethnic-cleansing, marginalisation and the like.

A UN referendum must not be completely about the Sabah claim but must also take into account the fact that the Federation of Malaysia may have ceased to exist in 1965 with the departure of Singapore. This underlines the fact that the federal government has been in non-compliance on the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

The federation, discounting Singapore, was made of three territories – Sabah, Sarawak, and Malaya— based on equality and partnership. This is no longer so because Singapore’s exit saw the resurrection of the Malaya Federation of 1957 and the admission of Sabah and Sarawak as its 12th and 13th states. In short, the Borneo states became independent of Malaysia at the time of Singapore’s exit but were retained illegally in the Malaysia Federation, now masquerading as Malaysia. The definition of “federation” in the Federal Constitution is the 1957 definition and not that of 1963.

The Sabah claim complicates the referendum process.

Not many know that the claim excludes the interior of the state. The claimed area covers eastern Sabah, which was part of the Sulu sultanate, now part of the Philippines. It also covers the northern third of the state, which a victorious sultan in Brunei handed over to Sulu in return for the latter’s help in settling a palace dispute in the former’s favour. Sulu claims that eastern and northern Sabah were leased to the British North Borneo Company and sovereignty has since been transferred to the Philippine republic.

Sabahans will not accept a two-part referendum, that is, the interior to decide whether it wants to be independent or part of Malaysia, and the Sabah claim areas to decide between Malaysia, the Philippines and independence.

Keeping Sabah united would mean allowing the people of the state to decide whether they want independence or to be in either Malaysia or the Philippines.

Best option

Independence would of course be the best option for Sabah – as well as Sarawak. Both states can then finally enter into the federation envisaged with Brunei before Malaysia. The Federation of Malaysia was the result of Sabah’s rejection of the North Borneo Federation on the grounds that Sarawak was too poor and lacked economic potential.

The next best option for Sabah would be to become an autonomous part of the Philippines, which has the kind of human capital that can help the state enter the 21st century. The Philippine common market is also nearer to Sabah and bigger than Malaysia’s. The republic, furthermore, is also a rapidly developing country with enormous potential.

There is much in common between the native majority in Sabah and the majority of the people in the Philippines. The Malaysia Agreement proviso that Sabah would have no official religion would be honoured in a Sabah that is part of the Philippines.

In terms of security, Manila can be expected to return the illegal immigrants in Sabah back to the southern part of the Philippines if their labour is not needed. Those who stay back in Sabah will not be entitled to local documents. If they have such documents, they will have to surrender them to the local authorities.

Sabah as part of the Philippines may be an unthinkable idea now, but it is not at all impossible.

There is too much hype about Sabah being part of Malaysia. It is all propaganda. It is unthinkable that a native Christian from Sabah would ever become prime minister of Malaysia. But a Sabahan can become president of the Philippines if the state is part of that republic.

Malaysia has clearly failed in Sabah and Sarawak after 47 years. Both states have been reduced to abject poverty, poorer than any in the country. It is high time to put the past behind and move forward.

Again, independence would be the best option for Sabah, as for Sarawak. We only have to look at Singapore and Brunei. The former left Malaysia after two years and the latter stayed out at the 11th hour.

Look where they are now. Singapore’s economy, at US$210 billion GDP, will be bigger than Malaysia’s US$205 billion GDP this year.

Sabah and Sarawak would be able to do what Singapore and Brunei have been able to do on their own outside Malaysia.

If a choice must be made between Malaysia and the Philippines for practical reasons, the former is certainly no option for Sabah, with its poor record in the two Borneo states despite the passage of nearly half a century.

There is definitely a case here for the UN Security Council to step in. -FMT

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