MANILA - Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday scoffed at other Southeast Asian nations' "patronizing attitude" when it comes to the Philippines' claim in Sabah, saying neighboring countries should treat Filipinos "with more respect."
After calling out a US government agency for implying that Sabah is part of Malaysia, Locsin said there were "some calls for ASEAN unity."
"ASEAN unity" is a catchphrase often used by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) when pushing for cooperation among neighboring countries in the region.
"One thing I don't like is the almost patronizing attitude our neighbors in Southeast Asia have against our [Sabah] claim," Locsin told senators in a budget hearing.
"There were appeals for ASEAN unity. I said, 'You know where you can bring ASEAN unity? You can shove it elsewhere because my country has placed ASEAN unity somewhere far behind,'" he said.
"I think I slapped them hard enough for them to realize to be careful... We are not a country to be ignored," he said.
"We are certainly not in a region of great powers... so please treat us with more respect," he said.
The Philippines and Malaysia have been at odds over the Sabah issue as both countries claim ownership over the resource-rich territory.
Manila has been citing an 1878 land lease agreement between the Sultanate of Sulu and the British North Borneo Chartered Co. in asserting its Sabah claim, while Kuala Lumpur insists that it has been governing the area in northern Borneo for centuries.
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.”
In November 2016, Duterte and then Prime Minister Najib Razak agreed to set aside the dispute.
The issue resurfaced in mid-2020, after the US Embassy in the Manila said in a tweet that it distributed aid to some Filipinos who were "repatriated" from "Sabah, Malaysia."
Locsin said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reached out to him, saying that Washington will "take care" of the gaffe.
"Secretary Pompeo called... He said, 'Leave it alone, Teddy Boy. I'm gonna take care of that,'" the DFA chief told senators.
The US Embassy in Manila has taken the post down, he said.
The Philippines needs to invest more in its military capabilities to "come back to the situation" when the country is "respected in Southeast Asia as a power in our own right," Locsin said.
While that has yet to happen, Locsin said he would continue to push for the Philippines' claim on Sabah.
"For now, it is ours and we want it," he said.
"I will certainly not be the one who will lose it (Sabah)," he said.