Malacañang on Monday dismissed a report that the Philippines has offered to ease its claim on Sabah in return for Malaysia’s support in Manila’s territorial dispute with China.
“There is absolutely no basis to such report,” its spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a statement.
Lacierda’s comment was sought on a Vera Files story that was published by The Manila Times on Monday.
The article said a note verbale recently handed over by the Philippine government to Kuala Lumpur amounted to a quid pro quo in which Manila would backpedal on its Sabah claim if Malaysia manifests before a UN body an extended continental shelf (ECS) definition favoring the Philippines in its case against China.
The note verbale was given by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to visiting Malaysian Defense Minister Dato Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.
Manila has taken its territorial dispute with Beijing to the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas (Itlos) for arbitration.
China however, refuses to recognize the process, insisting that the Itlos has no jurisdiction over the issue as the matter has to be resolved bilaterally.
Quoting a DFA statement, Lacierda clarified that the note verbale is part of the two neighbors’ “friendly bilateral relations” and does not in any way include the Sabah issue.
“The Philippines has excellent relations with Malaysia in the context of our friendly bilateral relations. Our two countries have been for years exchanging ways on how to address the issue of the [ECS] in the South China Sea [West Philippine Sea],” he said.
“The note verbale that was written about was part of this process. The note is about the features in the South China Sea and their implications on ECS claims. Sabah is not in any way part of the note,” Lacierda added.
While the note verbale, a copy of which was obtained by VERA Files, indeed made no mention of Sabah, it alluded to a 2009 complaint filed by Manila against a joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam before a UN body.
The Philippines had said then that such joint submission would impact its standing claim on Sabah–a resource-rich territory leased by British overlords from the Sultanate of Sulu, but which Britain later simply handed over to Malaysia.
According to the Vera Files story, the note verbale referred to the May 6, 2009 joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in which Malaysia claimed an extended continental shelf (350 nautical miles from baseline) that was clearly projected from Sabah.
The Philippines, in an August 4, 2009 note to the UN Secretary General, protested the joint submission because it effectively declared Sabah to be a Malaysian territory.
The Philippines claims ownership of Sabah, which at present is occupied by Malaysia, based on the title of the Sultan of Sulu who ceded proprietary rights over the 76,115-square-kilometer land to the Philippines in 1962.
In last week’s note verbale, however, the DFA informed the Malaysian government that it is “reviewing” its 2009 protest–something that an expert said could weaken Manila’s claim to Sabah.
The note verbale said the Philippines’ action as its reviews the 2009 complaint would depend on Malaysia’s response to Manila’s two requests related to the South China Sea conflicting territorial claim.
The first request is for Malaysia to “confirm” that its claim to an extended continental shelf is “entirely from the mainland coast of Malaysia, not from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands” in the South China Sea.
The DFA also requested Malaysia to confirm that it “does not claim entitlement to maritime areas beyond 12 nautical miles from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands it claims.”
Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), a state is entitled to 12-nautical-mile territorial sea over which it exercises sovereignty.
Malaysia, like the Philippines, claims parts of the Spratly islands, which are being claimed almost wholly by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. Brunei Darussalam is another claimant to some parts of the Spratlys.
There are some parts in the Spratlys where the 200 nautical mile EEZs of the Philippines and Malaysia overlap.