MANILA - The Philippines may deploy its armed forces to Sabah if the violence worsens and innocent Filipinos there are put in harm's way, a senator said on Friday.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, former chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, explained that although international law prohibits the use of force, certain situations allow countries to send armed forces to rescue their citizens in another territory.
In the case of Sabah, she said force may be used if the lives of Filipinos are genuinely in danger, Malaysia is unwilling or unable to ensure their safety, the Philippines does not pursue any purpose other than rescue, and the scale and effects of the military force are proportionate to the purpose of the operation.
"As much as possible, we want to avoid the use of force," Santiago said in a speech before a gathering of nurses on Friday. "But if this is the attitude of Malaysia ... then we shall avail of the exception."
She stressed, however, that using force should be the Philippines' last resort.
Santiago proposed that the Philippines and Malaysia agree first to have a third party that will investigate the clashes between Filipino and Malaysian forces in Sabah. This can be a former head of state of any Southeast Asian country, she said.
The senator said that under the 1907 Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of Disputes, a fact-finding investigation can be launched to help solve disputes through negotiation, mediation, or conciliation.
Speaking to reporters after her speech, however, Santiago described Malaysia's position in the ongoing conflict as "intellectually challenged."
She particularly criticized Malaysia's use of fighter jets to neutralize some 200 forces of the sultanate of Sulu, who went to Sabah in early February to assert that the territory is theirs.
"It's like a using a scud missile to kill a fly," Santiago said.
No abandonment of Sabah claim
Santiago, an expert in international law, stressed that the Philippines has not relinquished its claim to Sabah.
She said that should the territorial dispute be elevated to the International Court of Justice, the Philippines would win on the basis of a document showing that the sultanate of Sulu did not cede but only leased Sabah to the British North Borneo Company in 1878.
In 1946, the company ceded Sabah to the British Crown. Malaysia then included Sabah in its newly formed federation in 1963.
Even the argument that native Sabahans chose to be part of Malaysia would not hold water, Santiago said.
"First of all, there has to be sovereignty possessed by the state as represented by its government," she said. "The population by itself cannot change the nature of that sovereignty."
Santiago, meanwhile, commended President Aquino's "sober" handling of the Sabah issue.
"I commend him for his caution because it is so easy to play hero to a momentary crowd than to play statesman to an impatient crowd," she said.