MANILA — The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) said over the weekend that it would take time to assess the implications of an arbitral ruling awarding close to $15 billion to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu over a commercial dispute on Sabah.
Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said a task force to probe the matter was formed last week, but it will have to pore over many documents before it comes out with a position on the case.
“Our task force within the OSG has just started studying the matter. Considering the voluminous historical documents that we have to examine, this may take some time,” Guevarra said in a text message exchange with ABS-CBN News.
Guevarra said they will first study how the state would be involved in enforcing the February ruling of a French court against the Malaysian government.
“Our immediate concern is on whether or not the Philippine government has any role to play in relation to the French arbitral award in favor of the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu which, on its face, pertains to a private cause of action,” he said.
The court ruled in favor of 8 claimants, which it acknowledged as the legitimate descendants of Jamal-ul Kiram II, the last Sultan of Sulu who died in 1936.
The arbitrator agreed with the claimants’ interpretation of the sultanate’s 1878 deed with the British North Borneo Chartered Company as an agreement leasing Sabah, rather than ceding or selling off the territory as the Malaysian government argued.
The court said Malaysia, which had inherited the role of the British company as administrator of Sabah, reneged on the deal by halting its annual payment of 5,300 Malaysian ringgit (over P65,000) to the sultan’s heirs in 2013.
Malaysia stopped paying the heirs after a bloody incursion that year by followers of the late Jamalul Kiram III, who took on the title of Sultan of Sulu.
Kiram is not named among the claimants.
The Malaysian government refuses to recognize the ruling.
In July, they were granted a stay by the Paris Court of Appeal from implementing the arbitral court’s order.
PUSH TO ENFORCE
Sen. Robin Padilla had called on the Philippine government to compel Malaysia to pay the award, which he compared to the Philippines’ arbitral victory in The Hague in 2016 on the South China Sea.
However, the London-based counsel for the 8 claimants said they have not involved the government in enforcing the ruling.
Guevarra said the OSG had not been approached by any of the claimants.
He added that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had not given any specific directive on how to handle the case.
Marcos had only made a casual statement that the award should be “studied carefully” during a Palace meeting on the probe by the International Criminal Court on the Philippines’ drug war, Guevarra said.
Malacañang said Marcos has yet to articulate his stance on Sabah.
His father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., was one of the country's presidents who actively pursued the Sabah claim years after it was federated into Malaysia.
In his first State of the Nation Address last July, Marcos Jr. said the Philippines under his administration would not abandon any of its territories to foreign powers, but did not name any specific area.
Malaysia has formed its own task force to address the ruling.
With the case confined to courts abroad, the case has not affected relations between the Philippines and Malaysia, more so both countries’ claim on Sabah.
The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs held off comment on the Sabah issue, saying the country was not party to the litigation.
Foreign affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said on Thursday the issue needs to be examined more deeply by various branches of the government.
“In light of this, we want to underscore that it’s just not one agency that handles the issue of Sabah. A whole of government is needed to actually study and figure out what needs to be done in the light of this recent development,” Daza said.
— With a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News
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