MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday disputed Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's statement that the Philippines has no claim to Sabah, a territory in southern Philippines.
“That’s their position. The position of the President is we have a claim,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
“It’s true that we have a claim. That’s been the bone of contention since the time of [the late] President Marcos.”
In an exclusive interview with ANC’s Cathy Yang on Thursday, Mahathir was asked about the Philippines’ dormant claim to Sabah, a territory south of the country declared part of the Malaysian federation in 1963.
"Well, as far as we’re concerned, there is no claim,” said Mahathir.
Mahathir, who is in the country on a 2-day official visit, appeared hesitant to speak about the matter and said there would be no discussion between him and President Rodrigo Duterte on Sabah when they meet later Thursday.
“We will not discuss that,” he said.
The Philippines stakes its claim to Sabah by citing an 1878 land lease agreement between the Sultanate of Sulu and the British North Borneo Chartered Co.
The Philippines maintains that the agreement was only for the leasing of the land and did not render Sabah part of Malaysia when it was formed into a federation in 1963.
There had only been intermittent discussions between the Philippines and Malaysia over the claim, and the latter has continued to govern the territory. In November 2016, Duterte and then Prime Minister Najib Razak agreed to set aside the dispute.
At the start of his presidency, Duterte said he would “stick with the original position of the government. Nothing has changed.”
In 2013, hundreds of militants from Tawi-Tawi went to Lahad Datu in Sabah to assert their claim, calling themselves "Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.”
Malaysia has sentenced 9 Filipinos to death over the incident.