Decide on Sabah claim before federalism debates, lawyer urges gov't

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 08 2018 07:23 AM | Updated as of Feb 08 2018 07:51 AM

MANILA - The Philippine government should decide whether to revive its dormant claim over Sabah, while considering “political realities” in the region, before entertaining proposals to include the Malaysia-administered region as a state in the proposed federal set-up, a Mindanao-based lawyer said Wednesday.

The decision lies with Congress, which passed a resolution in 1962 urging then President Diosdado Macapagal to file a claim over Sabah, said lawyer Jose Lorena, a member of the group that drafted a proposed law for the Bangsamoro.

A 2016 House resolution sponsored by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate urged President Rodrigo Duterte to bring the Sabah claim before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Lorena said the government should “consider many things” including the “development today” in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the “handling of the Sabah issue.”

“I don’t believe that it is appropriate to discuss it openly... we have to first determine what position we are taking with respect to the claim before the restructuring of the country,” he told ABS-CBN News.

“We have to consider the political realities on the ground.”

The Philippines and Malaysia have maintained close ties despite testy diplomatic relations over Sabah, which voted to join the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

Relations deteriorated in the 60s when the Philippines insisted that the dispute be settled before the ICJ.

Under the administration of Duterte's predecessor, former Pres. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, Kuala Lumpur helped broker peace talks between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency in the south. 

SABAH STATE

The Philippines considers an 1878 deed between the Sultanate of Sulu and a British company merely leased the disputed property. 

Malaysia interprets it was a “cession” agreement and continues to pay heirs of the Sultan of Sulu an equivalent around P70,000 annually to this day. 

Calls to revive the Philippine claim resurfaced after former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. proposed that Sabah be included as a 13th region in his federal model.

Pimentel is a member of the experts’ group formed by President Rodrigo Duterte to study changes in the constitution.

Pimentel’s son, Senate President Koko Pimentel, earier told ANC Sabah could be included in the new Bangsamoro region under a federal Philippines.

Lorena said Sabah was not included in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission’s discussions on the Bangsamoro Basic Law because the issue should be left to the national government.

“It’s not within the competence of the BTC to include it because the claim to Sabah was filed upon a joint resolution of the Senate and the House,” he said.

The Malaysian foreign ministry earlier said its government “does not recognize and will not entertain any claims by any party on Sabah.”