MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reminded government agencies yesterday of a government directive not to refer to Sabah as part of Malaysia.
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said Malacañang issued Memorandum Circular 162 dated Aug. 20, 2008 entitled “Guidelines on Matters Pertaining to North Borneo (SABAH)” to government departments with regard to any act or statement expressing or implying, directly or indirectly, any recognition of a foreign state’s sovereignty over Sabah, a Philippine territory.
Hernandez clarified the circular, issued by then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita by authority of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, after it was raised in a discussion at a meeting of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on Monday.
“I understand the subject of whether or not to refer to Sabah as being part of Malaysia was mentioned in that meeting,” Hernandez said.
The Philippines has always maintained historical and legal rights over Sabah.
The circular was issued because of the need for guidelines with regard to activities, acts or statements in relation to Sabah for the protection of rights.
The DFA said the “existing circular has not been amended or changed yet.”
The circular provides that “No department, agency, or instrumentality of the Philippine Government shall make any act or statement expressing or implying, directly or indirectly, any recognition of a foreign state’s sovereignty over North Borneo (Sabah) or non-recognition of Philippine title or historical and legal rights to the same.”
Section 3 of the circular provides that reference to North Borneo (Sabah) in official documents should not include its being part of a larger national/federal territory.
Sultan’s relative killed in Sabah
A relative of Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III was reportedly killed in Semporna, Sabah after Malaysian authorities had arrested him.
Abraham Idjirani, sultanate spokesman, said Ustadhz Jamjam is a known religious leader in Semporna and in Jolo, Sulu, and not a member of the Sulu royal security force.
“I can’t remember his family name but he is a long time resident of Semporna, having lived there since the 1990s,” he said.
Malaysian authorities arrested Jamjam a week ago and he was reported dead either last Monday or Tuesday, Idjirani said.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima stood firm yesterday on the finding of probable cause to charge in court 38 accused members of the sultanate royal army arrested upon returning from Sabah last March 13, despite the order of the Tawi-Tawi Regional Trial Court for a reinvestigation.
“It’s only a remedy provided or available to respondents,” she said.
“Since they were indicted via inquest, it’s just natural to seek a full-blown PI (preliminary investigation). It’s not an indication that the case filed was weak.”
Speaking to reporters yesterday, De Lima said she will designate a panel of prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct a preliminary investigation on the charges of illegal possession of firearms and violations of the election gun ban and the Revised Penal Code provision on inciting to war.
The 38 shall remain in detention at a naval facility in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi pending the court’s decision on their motion for reduction of bail, she added.
Chief Public Attorney Persida Rueda-Acosta said the court had originally set bail of P164,000 for each of the accused or a total of P6.2 million.
“We asked the court to reduce it to up to P9,000 each or total of P342,000 for all 38 accused because of their extreme poverty,” she said.
Judge Peter Eisma decided to get the DOJ’s comment before ruling on the motion. The DOJ was given five days to comply with the order.
The Navy and Coast Guard stopped the 38 in three separate incidents in waters of Tawi-Tawi.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the Philippines cannot turn over the 38 to Malaysia without a mutual agreement.
“You cannot just send them there. (There) should be a mutually agreed arrangement,” he said.
Gazmin said the Philippines and Malaysia have an agreement to exchange information on security matters.
He does not know of any formal request from Malaysia to surrender the 38, he added.
The Philippines has no extradition treaty with Malaysia, Gazmin said.
Sultan’s brother’s whereabouts
Security forces have yet to receive reports that Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of the Sultan of Sulu, is now in the country as Malaysian authorities have claimed.
However, Idjirani said the leader of the sultanate’s royal security force in Sabah is still in Lahad Datu.
Gazmin said they have not received any Malaysian intelligence report that Agbimuddin has returned home.
“Remember Agbimuddin has been there for quite some time and he’s been moving in and out of Malaysia so he knows the terrain, he has a lot of relatives,” he said.
“It’s a low intensity conflict. It’s like a fish in the water. The water serves as the support system of the fish. That makes it hard to catch the fish.” – Mike Frialde, Edu Punay, Alexis Romero