Malaysia seeks hotline with Philippines on Sabah

By Delon Porcalla, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 03 2014 12:52 AM | Updated as of Mar 03 2014 09:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Malaysia wants to establish a “hotline” between its security forces and that of the Philippines to prevent a repeat of the standoff in Lahad Datu, Sabah last year between over 200 Filipino militants and Malaysian troops.

The Filipino militants, who called themselves the royal security forces of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, went to Lahad Datu to assert the Philippines’ territorial claim to eastern Sabah.

Scores of people were hurt when Malaysian authorities cracked down on undocumented aliens following the standoff.

While President Aquino did not want to raise the Philippines’ claim to Sabah during his two-day state visit to Kuala Lumpur last week, Prime Minister Abdul Najib Razak brought up the topic in a meeting at the latter’s office in Putrajaya Friday.

“We are looking at the possibility of establishing a hotline between our security forces in the event of any incident,” Najib told Filipino and Malaysian journalists Friday. “We need to ensure immediate interdiction on our Malaysian side as well as the Philippine side, so that is a very important facet.”

Najib said police and security officials from both countries should exchange information to enhance security matters.

He said once there is peace and security, trade and investment will flow in southern Philippines as well as in Sabah.

Sabah is an island strip that Manila previously claimed as its own, but is disputed by Malaysia. Muslims, led by the late Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram III, have claimed ownership of the island, but until now, the government is still weighing its options.

For his part, Aquino was thankful that the Malaysian government did not send home the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos there which could have worsened the country’s unemployment problem.

“We are thankful that they were very conscious about the possible negative effects if they sent all the Filipinos back home at the same time,” Aquino told Filipino reporters.

He admitted that the Sabah issue was raised, but said Manila wants to be sure about its claim on the island.

“We want to be able to tell our people the real score, and in that sense, come up with a consensus based on what is right. If you ask me exactly what the longitude and the latitude of the territory, I didn’t memorize that, I’m sorry. That has to be again verified by historians, by lawyers,” Aquino said, explaining the government’s inaction on the matter.

The Malaysian government wants the Philippines to set up a consulate in Kota Kinabalu – the capital of Sabah – but Aquino said the Department of Foreign Affairs is “re-examining” the territorial and diplomatic issue.

Several sectors have expressed opposition to the idea, saying it would mean that the Philippines had given up its claim over the disputed territory since consulates are established only in foreign countries.