Former Senate president Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. on Thursday maintained the Philippines’ long-standing claim over the state of Sabah, when sought for comment about a statement last Wednesday by Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman over the matter.
The statement, in turn, was issued, following what it said were “remarks by Mr. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., a member of the Philippines’ consultative committee, which appeared in the media on the claim of Sabah recently.”
Mr. Pimentel, in an interview with ANC last Tuesday, took up the Philippines’ now-dormant claim over Sabah in the context of the current move toward federalism being pushed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte. In that regard, Mr. Duterte has formed the aforementioned committee to review the 1987 Constitution.
In his statement, Mr. Anifah, himself born in Keningau, Sabah, said, “The Government of Malaysia reiterates its position that Malaysia does not recognise and will not entertain any claims by any party on Sabah. Sabah is recognised by the United Nations (UN) and the international community as part of Malaysia since the formation of the Federation in 16 September 1963.”
“Therefore, statements such as these will only expose the ignorance of history and international law of those who make them, as well as potentially harming the excellent bilateral relations which Malaysia and the Philippines currently enjoy.”
Mr. Pimentel, when sought for comment, 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.”
He added: “There are ways in international law where conflicting claims can be settled amicably and in a civilized manner.”
About the statement from Malaysia, he said, “That is their privilege. But it does not mean that we should not assert that claim. I want to emphasize that I am not advocating any violent action against Malaysia.”
The Philippines’ claim over Sabah in northern Borneo is rooted in its colonial history when the Sultanate of Sulu leased the territory to the British North Borneo Co. The claim was pursued in the 1960s by then Philippine president Diosdado P. Macapagal, as prompted in part by a landmark article by Filipino journalist and lawyer Napoleon G. Rama entitled “North Borneo Belongs to Us,” published in the Philippines Free Press of Dec. 30, 1961.
Mr. Macapagal’s successor, Ferdinand E. Marcos, continued to pursue the claim over Sabah which, however, became dormant in the post-Marcos era, if revived every now and then until today. — with Camille A. Aguinaldo