The proprietary claim of the Sultanate of Sulu descendants to Sabah is “in the nature of a private claim” and is not a sovereignty issue “at the moment,” Malacañang said Tuesday.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles made the statement after members of the Sultanate of Sulu expressed hope that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s stance on not abandoning even a square inch of the country’s territory includes Sabah.
“From what I understand, the case is in the nature of a private claim by the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu with Malaysia. Therefore, it is not an issue of sovereignty or of territory at the moment,” she said in a press briefing.
Cruz-Angeles added that Marcos’ statement on the country’s territory still needs to be clarified.
“The President’s articulation of his statement about not giving up a square inch of territory will have to be reduced into writing and into specifics, after which, we will announce these to you if they are in any way related to the Sabah claim. At the moment, there is still no articulation, so we have to wait,” she added.
A French court earlier ordered Malaysia to pay US14.9 billion to the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate for breach of an international private lease agreement.
The court granted the demand of compensation after Malaysia failed to pay the annual cession money of RM5,300 to the Sultanate heirs.
Former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, an international law expert, earlier advised Marcos to “decide once and for all if the country’s position on Sabah remains a territorial claim of the Philippine republic or a proprietary claim of the Sultanate of Sulu descendants.”
For its part, the Office of the Solicitor General is cautiously studying the legal and constitutional implications of any award in favor of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.
“The OSG, on its own, is carefully studying the legal and constitutional implications, if any, of the arbitral award in favor of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu,” Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said.
Malaysia said the Paris Court of Appeals had stayed the ruling, after finding that enforcement of the award could infringe the country’s sovereignty.
The heirs claim to be successors-in-interest to the last Sultan of Sulu, who entered a deal in 1878 with a British trading company for the exploitation of resources in territory under his control – including what is now the oil-rich Malaysian state of Sabah, on the northern tip of Borneo.
Malaysia took over the arrangement after independence from Britain, annually paying a token sum to the heirs, who are Philippine nationals.
But the payments were stopped in 2013, with Malaysia arguing that no one else had a right over Sabah, which was part of its territory.