The reported offer of the Department of Foreign Affairs or DFA to downgrade the Philippines’ claim on Sabah in exchange for Malaysia’s support to the Philippines’ case against China lodged before a United Nations court will hurt the country’s sovereignty, a veteran lawmaker warned.
“DFA’s move to use Sabah as a bargaining chip to gain the support of Malaysia for our case against China lodged before the UN is a huge diplomatic faux pas bordering on a sellout,” Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian said.
He added:”The very idea of giving up our strong claim of ownership over Sabah, even if it is just a ‘note verbale’, smacks of a sellout.”
Gatchalian, who is a majority member for the House Committee on Foreign Relations, criticized the DFA for even toying with the idea of having a quid pro quo deal with Malaysia since there is no assurance that Malaysia will help the Philippines with its dispute with China.
“Malaysia itself has overlapping territorial interest and is China’s top trading partner in Southeast Asia,” he said.
The “Sabah for Spratlys swap” offer was expressed in a note verbale by the DFA to a representative of the Malaysian embassy last week, based on reports in the independent VERA Files. The DFA offer was made just a week after Malaysian Defense Minister Dato Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein visited the country.
The said note referred to a 2009 joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), in which Malaysia laid claim to an extended continental shelf projected from Sabah. The Philippines protested such submission as it effectively declared Sabah to be under the Malaysian flag.
In the note verbale, the DFA said that it is reviewing the 2009 protest and that its action will depend on how Malaysia responds to Manila’s two requests on the South China Sea territorial claims.
The first request is for Malaysia, which is also a Spratly islands claimant, to confirm that its claim of extended continental shelf is “entirely from the main coast of Malaysia, and not from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands.” Malaysia was also asked to confirm it “does not claim entitlement to maritime areas beyond the 12 nautical miles from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands it claims.”
Gatchalian asked: “What power does Malaysia have that our highest officials feel the need to please our ASEAN neighbor?”
“First, Malaysia became a third party in our peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which should have been internal to the Philippines. Now Malaysia will be involved with the country’s external affairs with regards to our territorial dispute with China in case the government downgrades the country’s claim over Sabah,” the Valenzuela City congressman explained.
Gatchalian said giving up Sabah for the Spratlys is like bribing Malaysia to mollify the MILF, which looks to Malaysia as a big brother in the more than 20 years of waging an armed struggle to establish an Islamic state in Mindanao.
Under Article I of the 1987 Constitution, the country has sovereignty over its national territory: “The national territory comprises the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction, consisting of its terrestrial, fluvial and aerial domains, including its territorial sea, the seabed, the subsoil, the insular shelves, and other submarine areas. The waters around, between, and connecting the islands of the archipelago, regardless of their breadth and dimensions, form part of the internal waters of the Philippines.”
“Our Constitution ensures sovereignty over our national territory and the government must perform its duty to defend this sovereignty. Why is the government going to give up one of our territories for another when both these territories are rightfully ours in the first place,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian added: “What will happen to the more than 600,000 Filipinos in Sabah who have to endure harassment? Asking Malaysia for support against China in exchange of our right over Sabah will be like asking Count Dracula to act as guard of the Blood Bank of the Philippine Red Cross.”
Former Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations Lauro Baja Jr. said the Philippine claim to Sabah will be “prejudiced” if Malaysia accedes to DFA’s request.
“We are in effect withdrawing our objection to Malaysia’s claim of ownership to Sabah,” he said.
Sabah (North Borneo) originally belonged to the Sultan of Brunei, who gave it to Sultan of Sulu Salah ud-Din Karamat Bakhtiar in 1658 as a reward for helping quell a rebellion. In 1878, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Alam Kiram leased North Borneo to the Hong Kong-based British North Borneo Co. of Baron Gustavos von Overbeck and Alfred Dent for 5,000 Malaysian dollars a year.
In 1946, Overbeck and Dent, without permission from the Sultan, transferred the territory to the British government when the company ceased operations.
On Sept. 11, 1962, Sultan of Sulu Mohammad Esmail Kiram ceded to the Philippine government full sovereignty, title and dominion over the territory. President Diosdado Macapagal filed the Philippines’ claim over Sabah with the United Nations.
In 1963, the British government, again without permission from the Sultan of Sulu, transferred Sabah to the newly formed Federation of Malaysia.
Malaysia is currently the broker in the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF for the creation of a Bangsamoro, an autonomous political entity that will take the place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), described by President Benigno Aquino III as “a failed experiment”. (R. Burgos)