Palace denies selling out Sabah

MANILA — Malacañang said it is not selling out the country’s claim on Sabah amid reports that the government is courting Malaysia’s support for its case against China’s nine-dash line claim in the West Philippine Sea pending before a United Nations tribunal.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said a note verbale recently sent to Malaysia referred to the “features in the South China Sea and their implications on the extended continental shelf   (ECS) claims” of the country and had nothing to do with 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,” Jose said in a statement sent through presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

“The note verbale that was written about was part of this process. Sabah is not in any way part of the note,” Jose added.

In a separate text message, Lacierda flatly denied insinuations that the country downgraded its claim on Sabah to ensure Malaysia’s support in the arbitration case against Beijing.

“There’s absolutely no basis to that report,” Lacierda said.

Earlier, VERA Files said a quid pro quo has been reached through the note verbale which was reportedly sent to a representative of the Malaysian Embassy last week, days after the visit of Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.

The Philippines reportedly said in the note that it will be “reviewing” its 2009 protest against a joint submission made by Malaysia and Vietnam to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf wherein Kuala Lumpur made its claim from Sabah.

Manila questioned the joint submission before the UN as it effectively declared Sabah to be part of Malaysian territory.

VERA Files said last week’s note verbale sought a confirmation from Kuala Lumpur that its ECS claim is “entirely from the mainland coast of Malaysia, and not from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands.”

The DFA also reportedly 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.”

Malaysia, like the Philippines and China, claims parts of the Spratly Islands along with Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.

Former Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Lauro Baja Jr. said the Sabah claim will be “prejudiced” if Malaysia accedes to the DFA’s request.

“We are in effect withdrawing our objection to Malaysia’s claim of ownership to Sabah,” Baja said.