Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak have agreed to set aside the two countries’ dispute over Sabah, said Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay.
Yasay said the two leaders agreed not to discuss the issue during their bilateral meeting, saying it was not the proper venue.
Yasay explained, both leaders felt it was not a good idea to tackle the issue at the bilateral meeting as it would take time to settle the dispute.
He said the two leaders have instead agreed to explore the other aspects of the two neighbors’ relations.
Before his departure for Malaysia, Duterte said discussing the Sabah dispute during his two-day Malaysia visit was not his priority.
“Not at this time because my visit is just one day, to focus on what is happening in the Malacca Strait,” referring to the increasingly frequent kidnappings of Abu Sayyaf Group of Indonesians, Malaysians, and tourists.
Prior to formally assuming the presidency, then President-elect Duterte said the Philippines under his administration will pursue its Sabah claim “but only by peaceful means," since "we don’t have the luxury of getting in trouble, we cannot afford it.”
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 leasing the land and did not render Sabah part of Malaysia when it was formed into a federation in 1963. – report from Doris Bigornia, ABS-CBN News