MANILA - The Bangsamoro will not meddle with the Sabah dispute between the Philippines and Malaysia, the autonomous region's chief minister said Tuesday, noting that Kuala Lumpur was instrumental in crafting the peace deal that formed the new region.
The 2 Southeast Asian nations have overlapping claims over the oil-rich territory since the 1960s, but has set aside the dispute in recent years to facilitate peace talks in conflict-ridden Mindanao.
"Hindi namin papasukin yan. (We will not meddle with that). It is the central government that should pursue the claim if there are strong grounds to pursue," Bangsamoro chief minister and MILF chair Murad Ebrahim told ANC's Early Edition.
"We do not want to complicate the peace process. Lalong lalo na sa peace process, malaki ang natulong ng Malaysia to forge the agreement. Ayaw natin ma-affect ito," he said.
Kuala Lumpur helped broker a peace treaty signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest insurgency group in Mindanao, in 2014. The deal was ratified through a plebiscite in the first 2 months of 2019.
"Itong Sabah claim has been there for many, many years. Even before we started the negotiation, meron na 'yang Sabah claim," Murad said.
"This has nothing to do with the peace process. It is a bilateral issue between the Philippine government and the government of Malaysia," he said.
'WE ARE FILIPINOS, NOT MALAYSIANS'
Murad also brushed aside criticisms that he was unfit to rule the Bangsamoro due to his close ties with Malaysia that may possibly be a conflict of interest.
"We are Filipinos. We are Bangsamoro but we are Filipinos. We are not Malaysians. So whatever the position of the Philippine government, we are bound to support," he said.
Last year, a constitutional committee formed by President Rodrigo Duterte came up with a draft federal charter that included Sabah as part of Philippine territory as the Sultan of Sulu received Sabah from the Sultan of Brunei for helping quash a rebellion in the 17th century.
Kuala Lumpur has been consistent in saying it would not recognize any other claim over Sabah, which became part of the Federation of Malaysia in the 1960s, but Manila argues it was leased by the Sultanate of Sulu to a British firm.
Malaysia continues to pay P70,000 to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, a payment it labeled as "cession money."