Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal on Monday denied allegations that the Sabah issue was included in peace negotiations they held with the Philippine government.
“The Sabah claim was not part of the talking points of the two panels,” he told a forum organized by evangelical Christians.
Iqbal was commenting on reports that the MILF pushed Malaysia’s agenda to press the Philippine government to abandon its claim to Sabah state.
Dropping of the Sabah claim came to fore after the media group VERA Files reported that Manila through a note verbale had allegedly offered the possibility in exchange for Kuala Lumpur’s support in Manila’s territorial dispute with China.
Charles Jose, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, branded the VERA Files story as mere “speculation.”
He, however, said the DFA is conducting an internal investigation to trace who leaked the note verbale’ which was handed over to the Malaysian Embassy during a recent visit of Malaysian Defense Minister Dato Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.
The department already denied that the Sabah issue was included in the note verbale, allegedly part of the process to resolve competing maritime claims of Malaysia and the Philippines.
Jose rejected the idea of the Philippines retreating from its claim to Sabah, which was challenged in 2013 when supporters of the Sultanate of Sulu and Malaysian forces figured in a bloody standoff.
A source told The Manila Times that there is a “twisted logic” for the Philippines to offer such agreement to Malaysia.
What Manila wants is for Kuala Lumpur to agree to the definition of maritime entitlements in the region, and that the extended continental shelf must not go beyond 12 nautical miles, the source said.
Such is a win-win situation for Malaysia while the Philippines stand to gain support for its arbitration case against China.
The Philippines filed the arbitration case in January 2013 to invalidate China’s encompassing nine-dash line claim in the resource-rich region that stretches to territories of neighboring countries the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam.
Manila has received wide support from the international community regarding its arbitration case, a decision on which is expected to be handed down early next year by a five-member tribunal in The Hague.