PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he would not bring up the country’s longstanding claim to Sabah during his two-day visit to Malaysia.
Speaking to reporters before leaving the country, the President said he would focus on maritime security as well as economic cooperation.
“Not at this time because my visit is just one day, to focus on what is happening in the Malacca Strait. That area there, it’s a vital artery going to the Pacific Ocean,” Duterte said.
The Philippines’ claim to Sabah has been dormant for decades. Sabah or Northern Borneo was part of the Sultanate of Sulu and supposedly leased to the British North Borneo Co. in 1878. It ended up being part of the Malaysian federation in 1963.
Duterte on Wednesday morning left the country for a brief visit to Thailand to pay respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
“His Majesty, the King, was a true friend of the Philippines, whose state visit in 1963 continues to resonate to this day,” the President said.
“He will be remembered for his dedicated efforts to foster goodwill and friendship between our nations and peoples. For all he has done to bridge peoples to greater understanding, it truly deserves a special place in history,” he added.
From Thailand, the President will travel to Malaysia to meet Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has backed peace negotiations with Muslim rebels in Mindanao.
“The Philippines recognizes Malaysia’s role in pursuing just and lasting peace in Mindanao. In my talk with the Prime Minister, I shall seek Malaysia’s continued support for the peace process in Southern Philippines,” Duterte said.
“Of course, economic cooperation will be important point of reference. I will discuss ways of intensifying two-way trade and investment, as well as support for the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area to spur Mindanao growth,” he added.
The President said he would also seek Malaysia’s commitment to secure the seas from criminal and terrorist groups.
Duterte earlier said he was amenable to joint military and police operations between the Philippines and Malaysia to combat the alarming rise of kidnappings and piracy.
The President said he would also ask the Malaysian government’s cooperation in fighting illegal drugs.
“I am hopeful that my visit will move further forward as we pursue common aspiration for our peoples, our nations and our region. As I have sworn to you before, my guiding principle in this and all engagements will be the protection of the national interest of our people,” he said.
“We will be unflagging in our effort to pursue our independent foreign policy consistent with the provision of our Constitution and the mandate [of the]Office of the President,” the President added.