by Quennie Ann J. Palafox

      The colonization project of Rizal in Sabah was a response to the Calamba’s land crisis which all started when Governor-General Terrero released a directive for the investigation of the friar estates to resolve the agrarian problems on the collection of land taxes and tenancy. Rizal was requested by the tenants of Calamba to conduct an investigation on hacienda owned by the Dominicans in Calamba and he submitted it to the Governor-General for appropriate actions. He found out that the hacienda of the Dominican Order comprised not only the lands around Calamba, but the whole town of Calamba.

      Rizal’s exposure of the miserable plight of the tenants drew resentment from the friars. To make things worse, the Supreme Court of Madrid sided with the Dominicans and gave its recognition of the proprietorship of the lands in Calamba. It was mandated that tenants of Calamba be expelled if they fail to leave the hacienda before the date set by the law. Rizal’s family dispossessed from the Dominican-owned hacienda in Calamba in the absence of Rizal. Governor-General Weyler, who took the place of Governor-General Terrero, was sympathetic to the friars and so he deployed 50 soldiers from the peninsular regiment of artillery to drive out the poor tenants and the soldiers showed no mercy when they burned the houses as the tenants exceeded to the given 12 days to evacuate their belongings.

      On his trip to Hong Kong, Rizal by chance met an Englishman Mr. W.B. Pryor and his wife, who were on their way to Sabah (North Borneo) to whom Rizal had shared his idea of a Filipino settlement in Sabah. The owner of the territory, the Sultan of Jolo, had it leased to the North Borneo Company in 1878 and was duly recognized by Spain, Germany and England with the condition that Spanish sovereignty over the island of Jolo will be honored. What was in the mind of Rizal that he desired to establish Filipino community in Sabah? He said in his letter to Blumentritt on February 23, 1892: “if it is impossible for me to give my country liberty. I should like to give it at least to these noble countrymen of mine in other lands”. Based on this statement, we can conclude that Rizal was apparently considering of relocating his family in Sabah where he can organize a Filipino community who would devote themselves in agriculture, he serving as the leader. He observed in Hong Kong that Englishmen governed their colony well far from the persecutions suffered by the natives of Philippines from the Spaniards.

      Jaena, Luna, Bautista, Blumentritt and his other friends in Europe were delighted upon hearing the plan and expressed their support to the noble venture. While the project was commendable for most of his friends, Manuel Hidalgo, Rizal’s brother-in-law was not in favor. By January of 1892, Rizal had already prepared the agreement which was to govern the settlement of the Filipino colony in its relations with Sabah. The North Borneo Company offered permanent settlement for the emigrants and the sale or lease of lands for 999 years. None of the settlers would render free labor or be forced to serve in the military except the territory’s sovereignty is in threat. They would rule themselves with their own laws under the safeguard of the Company. In March, Rizal received a favorable sign when Mr. Pryor saw that Sabah needed manpower, and so he invited Rizal to come over to Sandakan. The company offered to undertake construction of buildings and planting of orchards, all payable in three years. Rizal in the absence of the governor of the island entered negotiations with the acting Secretary of the Government, Mister Cook, who also had to specify in writing the conditions of the settlement. He was received by the Governor on April 6, 1892, and on the following day he left for Hong Kong on board the Memnon.

      On his arrival in Hong Kong, Rizal obtained directly from Spanish Consul Governor-General Eulogio Despujol’s position over the issue of Sabah settlement. Despujol refused to answer the letter sent by Rizal asking his permission to allow the landless Filipinos to establish a colony in Sabah. Despujol had probably played safe by not entering into an agreement involving him, nor to give publicity to the aspirations of the would-be-settlers as well as their intention to renounce their nationality. The consul whom Despujol coursed his reply, informed that the Governor-General had received his letter but he considered the Sabah project anti-patriotic as the Philippines was short of labor to cultivate its lands, and that he did not favor the establishment of Filipino community in Sabah.