The Philippine claim to the territory of North Borneo, or as it is now called, Sabah, is not of recent origin. Rather it is based on an older claim to the area by the Sultans of Sulu. But the Sulu claim itself is suspect. A look at the background and an analysis of the status of North Borneo is therefore essential to understanding the nature of the dispute.

In January 1878 Sultan Mohammed Jamalul Alam, granted a portion of North Borneo, which he claimed, to an international syndicate headed by Alfred Dent, a London businessman, and the Austrian Baron Gustav von Overbeck. A few weeks before this grant was made, in December 1877, the Sultan of Brunei had ceded North Borneo, including the whole of the area claimed by Sulu, to von Overbeck and Dent.

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