Is PH dropping Sabah claim?

MANILA — Lawmakers asked yesterday the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to explain the reported downgrading of the country’s claim on Sabah in a bid to gain the support of Malaysia for the Philippines’ arbitration case against China over the disputed South China Sea before the United Nations, as they warned that it will be treason to drop the country’s solid legal claim over the island.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who heads the 75-man Ad Hoc Committee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, pressed Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to explain the reported note verbale handed by the DFA to the Malaysian embassy last week, indicating the country’s offer to downgrade its claim over the oil-rich island-state.

PALACE DISPUTES REPORTS

But Malacañang has disputed reports that the Philippines has supposedly abandoned its claim on Sabah to win Malaysia’s support over its territorial spat with China.

“There is absolutely no basis to such report,” Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a text message to reporters.

“I think it deserves Secretary Del Rosario to explain this note verbale. We cannot state that we were dropping, it will be treason if somebody will drop the Sabah claim because we have a very good legal title of the Sabah,” Rodriguez told the Manila Bulletin in a phone interview.

“The government owns Sabah. I am sure this is farthest from the minds and the plans of the DFA to drop of our claim. It will be treason to do that,” he pointed out.

Lacierda shared a statement of DFA spokesman Charles Jose, who insisted the issue of Sabah was not included in the note verbale sent to the Malaysian embassy.

Jose explained that the Philippines and Malaysia, having “excellent relations,” have been exchanging ways on how to address the issue of the extended continental shelf (ECS) in the South China Sea “for years.”

SABAH NOT PART OF NOTE VERBALE

“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,” Jose said.

Despite Malacañang’s denial, Rodriguez said he will file a resolution calling for an investigation into the “alarming” report disclosing the DFA’s gesture to inform the Malaysian government about its move to review Manila’s protest lodged before the United Nations protesting the joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) which effectively declared Sabah as a Malaysian territory.

“We will investigate this. We will immediately file a resolution to be able to investigate that. This has to be clarified,” he said.

The Vera Files report said the DFA’s action would depend on Malaysian government’s response to Manila’s two requests related to the conficting claims on the Spratly islands – to confirm that its claim of an extended continental shelf is “entirely from the mainland coast of Malaysia” and 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.”

Albay Rep. Al Francisco Bichara, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said the DFA should have consulted Congress if the reported downgrading of the Sabah’s claim is true.

“We have to verify the report first before we investigate this. Congress has to be consulted if this information is true,” he said in a text message, when asked if his panel will look into the matter.

AKO BICOL party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, a senior member of the Bichara panel, agreed with Rodriguez, saying that the supposed “horse trading” should be looked into.

“Definitely, we have to look into this alleged horse trading though I don’t find this alarming. Considering that we are in the advent of ASEAN economic integration, the Sabah issue will no longer be a thorny issue between us and Malaysia,” he said in a separate interview.

“But then, personally, I maintain that the Sultan of Sulu should be properly compensated and not just by a mere pittance,” he said.

CAUSE OF WORRY

But contrary to Batocabe’s view, Deputy Majority Leader and Citizens Battle against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna manifested his concern over the report, but expressed confidence that the DFA, led by Del Rosario, will not give up the country’s claim over Sabah.

“For me, if true, this is a cause for worry. Although, I highly doubt if our DFA Secretary and our President, both patriots, will do this. Based on how I know them, they will not compromise our nation’s sovereignty,” he said in a text message.

The Philippines claims ownership of Sabah based on the title of the Sultan of Sulu who ceded proprietary rights over the land to the Philippine government in 1962.

The Philippine claim is based on the argument that the 1878 deed entered into by the Sultan with an Austrian named Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and an Englishman named Alfred Dent was a lease agreement. Malaysia, however, is of the belief that it was a treaty of cession.

It was the late President Diosdado Macapagal who initiated the Philippine claim in 1961.

In 1950, the Philippine Congress adopted a“resolution expressing the sense of the Philippines that North Borneo belongs to the heirs of the sultan of Sulu and the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines and authorizing the President to conduct negotiations for the restoration of such ownership and sovereign jurisdiction over said territory.”

In 2009, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, signed a law on the country’s archipelagic baselines, which was upheld in 2011 by the Supreme Court, affirming the Philippine claim to Sabah.

The new leadership of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo (SSNB) had assured it would pursue its claim through peaceful means.

The new rajah muda (crown prince), Datu Maharajah Adinda Pugdal Kiram, said Sabah was given as a gift by the Sultan of Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu for helping quell a rebellion.