Sabah claim reignites row between PH, Malaysia top diplomats

The Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, on Thursday stood by its position that Sabah was not part of Malaysia, but an integral part of the Philippine territory, citing “historical factual” basis.

Malacañang immediately stood by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in insisting on the Philippines’ claim over Sabah.

Citing Article 1 of the 1987 Constitution, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in a virtual press briefing in Quezon City, said the Philippine territory included “all the other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction.”

Locsin also lamented the move of Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein for summoning the Philippine ambassador to Kuala Lumpur over his tweets on the country’s claim over Sabah.

In his riposte on Thursday, Locsin insisted he was just asserting the Philippines’ claim over the territory similar to what he was doing with the West Philippine Sea issue.

“You summoned our ambassador for a historically factual statement I made: that Malaysia tried to derail the Arbitral Award,” Locsin said in his Twitter post.

“He was already summoned. It was about to happen. They are always trying to sneak in an attempt to implicitly abandon our claim. But I warned our diplomats. Never,” Locsin said in a separate tweet.

Hussein earlier summoned Ambassador to Malaysia Charles Jose to explain Locsin’s tweet that “Sabah is not in Malaysia.”

Roque backed Locsin, saying the Philippines obtained Sabah from Brunei as a gift for helping put down a rebellion on Borneo Island.

However, he also recognized the country’s conflicting claims with Malaysia, which believes that Sabah was ceded to them. The Philippines claims Sabah was only leased, not ceded, to the British North Borneo Co.

Despite this unresolved territorial dispute, Roque said the Philippines and Malaysia continue to enjoy “friendly” bilateral ties in recent years.

“You know this unresolved territorial dispute has been dormant. It has not affected our friendly bilateral relations and I think we will definitely maintain this friendly bilateral relations despite and in spite of this unresolved dispute,” he said.

He acknowledged that there may not be a resolution to the territorial dispute in the near future, but noted that it will not affect the long-established bilateral ties between the two countries.

Locsin stood by his statement, which Hussein has branded as “irresponsible” and “affects bilateral ties.”

“We have and continue to assert our rights in the Spratlys/WPS [West Philippine Sea]. I am doing that with regard to Sabah,” Locsin stressed.

“There have been repeated attempts to sell that claim but no Philippine president has succumbed,” the DFA chief noted.

Because of Hussein’s remark, Locsin said he would summon Malaysia’s ambassador to the Philippines after his counterpart criticized him for his statement on the Philippines’ Sabah claim.

“No country can tell another what it can and cannot say about what the latter regards as rightfully its own. I don’t insist China say only what we want to hear about the Arbitral Award. It is free to say what it wants while we say and do what needs doing. That holds for Sabah,” Locsin said in another tweet.

“And that’s China we’re talking about—the second biggest economy and military power in the 21st century. I am summoning the Malaysian ambassador,” he added.

Since the term of President Diosdado Macapagal, the Philippines has been asserting its territorial claim over the northern part of Borneo.

The Philippine claim is anchored on the Sultanate of Sulu’s assertion that it has rightful ownership over Sabah, as several historians believe the former Sultan of Sulu was gifted with the land in exchange for helping the Sultan of Brunei defeat his adversaries.

However, Malaysia insisted the land, then occupied by the British empire, was rightfully ceded to them as Spain transferred part of the property of the Sultanate of Sulu to the British under the Madrid Protocol in the 1880s.

Currently, Malaysia has control over the said portion of the land.

Malacañang recently insisted that the Philippines had a claim on the resource-rich region despite Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad saying that the Philippines had no claim in the disputed land.

READ: Carpio: No to war, but assert rights on SCS

READ: Rody affirms PH claim to Sabah

Topics: Department of Foreign Affairs , Sabah , Philippine territory , Malaysia
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