March 8th, 2013 by Hafiz Noor Shams
I have a fundamental objection to the Sulu and the Philippine claims of Sabah. Calling it the claim of Sabah is somewhat inaccurate because if the Philippine claim is wholly based on the Sulu claim, then by right the claim only covers roughly the eastern half of Sabah. Nevertheless, the objection that I have is not based on nationalistic sentiment. It is based on democratic and libertarian values.
Know this. The claim by the two parties are undemocratic and certainly unlibertarian. It is both undemoractic and unlibertarian because it completely bypasses the will of the people in Sabah.
The Sulu claim especially is made by a pretender to the throne of the Sulu Sultanate, a monarchy which practically has been extinct for a long time now. The claim by the monarchy highlights how it is undemocratic and unlibertarian.
The term libertarian that I use here is almost democratic and almost committed to a liberal democracy.
Libertarians come from the tradition that the state derives its legitimacy from its people. After all, the most important component of any society is the individuals who form it. Libertarians seek to secure freedom of individuals and the best way to do so within the framework of the state is to make the state answerable to its citizens.
The Sulu claim certainly does not fit into the libertarian framework. If the claim is realized by the Sulu Sultanate, then it will be clear that it is the sultan who will be in power. The Sultan, after all, is running the show, ordering the doomed incursion into Sabah. Any political power will originate from him and that is unacceptable to any libertarian.
Of course, the new Sulu power in Sabah can institute democratic infrastructure to turn the direction of the origin of power more libertarian and that will solve the democratic and libertarian concern. But the fact remains the claim has its origin from a very autocratic nature.
If one compares the Sulu claim to Malaysia’s, it is clear that the Malaysian claim is more libertarian. This is not to mean that Malaysia is a libertarian utopia but relatively, Malaysia is far above the rung compared to the Sulu Sultanate.
The most libertarian argument for Malaysia is that the Malaysian claim is not really a Malaysian claim. It is a Sabahan claim. The people of Sabah decided to be part of the federation of Malaysia and as a federation, all states within Malaysia is responsible toward the security of Sabah. In the face of armed adventure embarked by the Sulu Sultanate, the self-defense action by the Malaysian security forces is legitimate from the libertarian perspective, especially from the libertarian concept of non-aggression axiom. The axiom can be problematic at times by in the case of Sabah, its application is straight forward.
And this brings us to the Philippines, which for all intents and purposes is the successor state to the extinct Sulu Sultanate. What makes the Philippine claim more legitimate from libertarian perspective when compared to the Sulu claim, is that the Philippines, like Malaysia, is a democracy. Both democracies may not be perfect and there are flaws in the system but principally, they are. There are democratic institutions and there are guarantees of individual rights although the guarantees do not go as far enough as a libertarian would like and there are deplorable violations of those rights.
Of course, comparing Malaysian and Philippine democratic institutions to Sulu’s, which do not exist, is unfair because they have not been given a chance to develop it. Nevertheless, the setup highlights the origin of power. For both states, the origin of the power comes from the people, not some autocrats like a sultan.
That however does not make the Philippine claim very much more agreeable from the Sulu claim. The Philippine claim still bypasses the people of Sabah. So, the only libertarian (and democratic) way of solving the claim is by going back to the people. Let us have three options. Malaysia, independence or the Philippines. I have a feeling that the first two options will be more popular to the last one.
And then finally, the Malaysian setup is far more likeable to libertarians than the Philippines. Malaysia is a federation and the Philippines is a unitary state. Sabah has considerable autonomy within Malaysia. Even then, there are accusations that Kuala Lumpur is meddling in the affairs of Sabah. Imagine the Philippines with its unitary state mentality. That would be ugly not just to libertarians, but more so to Sabahans and the Philippines.