MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is in town on a two-day official visit as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s first official guest. By contrast, Marcos has had nine official, state and working visits to various countries since he assumed office. This should be a welcome change.

Anwar is known to as many Filipino academics and intellectuals as Marcos is known to them.

I have no doubt he would be enjoying the most robust welcome, especially at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, where he is known for his deep admiration of our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal and has many longtime academic friends.

Once the youngest rising Southeast Asian leader when he led the Malaysian opposition for many years, he will now be examining the future of Philippine-Malaysian and Asean relations with his host, who is 10 years his junior but with no less formidable experience as an international leader.

Both are imbued with a vision of Asian Renaissance both might have ingested from Rizal. We have a young generation of Southeast Asians raring to listen and learn from them.

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As members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), founded in 1967, Malaysia and the Philippines share a unique future with the rest of Asean. It wasn't always so from the very beginning. The Philippines owes its rights over Sabah to the Sultan of Sulu who had received the territory from the Sultan of Brunei as a gift for his help in quelling a rebellion. In 1878, Gustavus Baron de Overbeck, the Austrian consul-general in Hong Kong, acting for the British merchant Alfred Dent, obtained an annual lease on it for 5,000 Malayan dollars.

Overbeck and Dent formed the British North Borneo Company and this administered the territory under a Royal Charter. In 1903, the company leased from the sultanate other islands north and northeast of Borneo for an additional 300 Malayan dollars a year. The total rental of 5,300 Malayan dollars was religiously paid to the Sultan and his heirs until 1936.

On July 10, 1946, six days after the Philippines regained its independence, Britain, having resumed control of the Malay Peninsula in 1945, annexed North Borneo as a crown colony. Francis Burton Harrison, a former American governor-general acting as special adviser to President Manuel Roxas on foreign affairs, advised the filing of a formal protest with Britain on behalf of the Sultanate. But Roxas decided to take no action despite Harrison's insistence that the Philippines take the case to the United Nations. Action was limited to claiming the Turtle and Mangsee Islands, which the British had earlier agreed to relinquish to the US under the terms of their 1930 boundary agreement.

In 1948, Britain constituted the nine states on the Malayan Peninsula as the Federation of Malaya. It became independent in 1959. In 1957, the Sultan of Sulu, Muhammad Email Kiram, issued a public proclamation formally terminating the lease agreement with Dent and Overbeck. In 1961, as Britain prepared to pull out of Malaya, Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman conceived a larger Federation of Malaysia that would combine the nine Malay states with Singapore, which had become independent within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1957, and the former territories of British Borneo — Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak.

In 1962, the Sultanate ceded to the Philippine government its sovereign rights over Sabah. That same year President Diosdado Macapagal formally informed Britain and Malaya of the Philippine claim to the "sovereignty, jurisdiction and ownership" of Sabah as a successor-in-interest to the Sultan of Sulu. In 1963, talks were held in London between a Philippine panel led by Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez and the British panel led by Lord Home.

The Philippines proposed that the case be brought to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The British talked about the issue and spoke of their commitment to create a new Federation of Malaysia.

On July 31, 1963, Indonesian President Sukarno, Malayan Prime Minister Rahman and President Macapagal met in Manila and signed the Manila Accord. This provided, among others, that the inclusion of North Borneo in the Federation of Malaysia "is subject to the outcome of the Philippine claim." Before the end of August, a UN-sponsored mission in Sabah and Sarawak reported that the majority of the people there wanted to join the new federation. The Philippines and Indonesia repudiated these results, claiming the process was rigged.

On Sept. 16, 1963, the Federation of Malaysia was formed, incorporating the former British Borneo territories, except for Brunei, which opted out.

Singapore initially joined but walked out in 1965. Manila and Jakarta broke off diplomatic relations with Kuala Lumpur, and Sukarno launched his policy of confrontation under the battle cry, "Crush Malaysia!"

In 1968, in a conciliatory move Ferdinand E. Marcos visited Malaysia to pave the way for a solution to the diplomatic crisis. Then that same year Philippine and Malaysian panels sat down for talks on Sabah in Bangkok. These ended in failure, and relations between Manila and Kuala Lumpur were disrupted again after the Philippines enacted a new baselines law that effectively claimed dominion and sovereignty over Sabah, and the Constitution was amended to redefine the nation's "territory."

Relations between Manila and Kuala Lumpur resumed on Dec. 16, 1969. Years later, at the second Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 4, 1977, Marcos stunned all his colleagues when he said he was "taking definite steps to eliminate one of the burdens of Asean — the claim of the Philippine Republic to Sabah." However this was never elaborated on, nor followed by any concrete act; neither was it followed by any suggestion from the Philippine side to resume negotiations on the claim.

The Sabah claim is sleeping under the rug; and unlike the Philippine maritime and territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, it has not provoked any untoward incident between the parties in conflict. The last incident at Lahad Datu on Feb. 11, 2013 involved militant supporters of one of the claimants of the Sultan of Sulu's throne, but no state elements. In fact the two governments tried to work together to minimize the incident. Will Marcos Jr. and Anwar look deeply into each other's eyes and ask themselves how they could move faster forward?

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