The admnistration of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte will press the Philippines’ claim to Sabah, which is now being administered by Malaysia.
In an interview with the ANC’s #NOFILTER on Thursday night, incoming Foreign Affairs secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said the Duterte administration will stick to the government’s position on the Sabah issue.
“Sabah, my understanding is that we have not abandoned our claim to Sabah. We have a law that in fact says that we should continue with it,” Yasay noted.
“Our obligation and duty to pursue that claim is there, except that it has been placed at the backburner. But that will continue, maybe even perhaps giving more concern [under the Duterte administration],” he said.
Sabah is contested by the Philippines and Malaysia.
The Sultanate of Sulu first ruled Sabah until it came under the administration of British North Borneo Co. in the late 19th century.
In 1963, the British government made Sabah, then a colony of Britain, part of the newly created Federation of Malaysia
The Philippines claims that Sabah was only leased, not ceded, to the British North Borneo Co., the administrator of the territory before Britain annexed it.
Heirs of the Sultan of Sulu continue to receive lease payments for Sabah.
Malaysia, however, maintains that the international community has been recognizing Sabah as part of its territory since the formation of the federation in 1963.
The Malaysian government was actively involved in brokering peace between the Philippine government and the Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Meanwhile, Yasay said Malaysia should rethink its role as broker in the peace negotiations, citing public perception that the Sabah dispute is closely tied with Kuala Lumpur’s role in the peace talks.
“The brokering of Malaysia has created a public perception that there was something tied to the Sabah claim and we would like to eliminate that,” he added.
“I think it would be the best interest for the Malaysians to pull back and so we can discuss the negotiations. The rejection of the BBL is one classic example that may probably make Malaysia rethink its position on this because it played the role,” he added.
Yasay was referring to the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL, which is still pending in Congress.
The BBL is the enabling measure for the creation of the Bangsamoro, an autonomous political entity in Mindanao, based on the final compact between the Aquino government and the MILF.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd had lobbied hard for the passage of the bill but was unable to muster enough support in the House of Representatives, even to secure a vote in the final session day before Congress adjourns for the election campaign.
Failure to pass the bill means it cannot be passed under Aquino, whose six-year term ends next week, with no certainty over whether his successor will even pursue a peace deal.