By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter
MALACAÑANG on Sunday said it is unlikely that President Rodrigo R. Duterte will bring up the Philippines’ long-standing claims over the state of Sabah during his meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad in Kuala Lumpur Monday, July 16.
“Probably not,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in a Viber message on Sunday afternoon, July 15, when asked if Mr. Duterte will discuss the Philippines’ claims over Sabah with Mr. Mahathir considering now that the consultative committee’s (ConCom) proposed federal constitution strengthens the Philippines’ long-standing claim to the territory of North Borneo.
Mr. Roque said last week that Mr. Duterte was scheduled to meet with Mr. Mahathir after the fight of Senator and boxing champ Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur.
“[I] had [a] telephone talk with [Mr.] Mahathir before Cabinet meeting. He wants to talk about insurgency and ISIS. We will be there July 16. After the boxing, [I] will talk with Mahathir,” Mr. Duterte said, as posted by Mr. Roque on his official Twitter account on July 9.
In the National Territory article under the proposed federal constitution, the Philippines’ sovereignty would consist of “the islands and waters encompassed by its archipelagic baselines, its territorial sea and its airspace,” in accordance with the “laws of the federal republic, the law of nations, and judgments of competent international courts or tribunals.” It also included territories that belong to the country by “historic right or legal title,” which was a provision of the 1973 Constitution, but excised from the present Constitution.
Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman, in a statement on Jan. 31, maintained Malaysia’s territorial claim over Sabah. “The Government of Malaysia reiterates its position that Malaysia does not recognize and will not entertain any claims by any party on Sabah. Sabah is recognized by the United Nations (UN) and the international community as part of Malaysia since the formation of the Federation in 16 Sept. 1963,” he said.
In an interview with ConCom member and former Senate president Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. last February, he said: “All I’m saying is that is the position of Malaysia. We will contest it, but in a friendly manner. There is no need to go to war and be angry with one another.”
A report by the late journalist and lawyer Napoleon G. Rama of the Philippines Free Press on Dec. 30, 1961, prompted the Philippine government back then, on the watch of President Diosdado P. Macapagal, to pursue the country’s Sabah claim. The report went back in history to recount the Sultanate of Brunei’s ceding Borneo to the Sultanate of Sulu in 1850 following the latter’s assistance in quelling a rebellion in Brunei.
Mr. Rama also said that in 1878, the “Sultan of Sulu entered into an agreement with Alfred Dent and Baron von Overbeck, two adventurers who pioneered in colonizing and carpet-bagging in the southern island. The British say the agreement ceded North Borneo in perpetuity. The heirs of the Sultan of Sulu say it was merely a lease contract calling for a yearly rental of $5,000.”
“The British copy of the contract in question holds that North Borneo was ‘ceded in perpetuity.’ The heirs of the Sultan of Sulu swear that there was no such giveaway condition in the original contract. The British copy, they say, was a spurious document — a forgery,” the report said.
The Sabah question became a contentious issue as late as 2013 when heirs of the Sulu Sultanate led a standoff in the territory.