Palace upholds PH’s Sabah claim, but insists row won’t affect ties with Malaysia

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The territorial dispute between the Philippines and Malaysia over Sabah will not affect the Southeast Asian neighbors’ bilateral relations, Malacañang said Thursday even as it stood by the country’s claim over the resource-rich territory.

“Ang Sabah po ay binigay po sa atin ng ating mga kapatid galing sa Brunei. Binigay po sa Sultanate of Sulu na inassign naman po sa Republika ng Pilipinas but we recognize po na this matter should not affect our ongoing bilateral ties with Malaysia,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a televised press briefing.

[Sabah was given to us by our brothers and sisters from Brunei. It was given to the Sultanate of Sulu who was assigned to the Republic of the Philippines. But we recognize that this matter should not affect our ongoing bilateral ties with Malaysia.]

“It has not affected it in recent years and we will continue to have healthy bilateral relations with Malaysia despite the issue of Sabah,” he added.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein earlier said his government would summon Manila’s Ambassador Charles Jose over Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr.’s earlier tweet, saying that “Sabah is not in Malaysia.”

Locsin made the remark as he called out the United States Embassy in the Philippines’ tweet reporting the United States Agency for International Development’s donation to Filipino repatriates from “Sabah, Malaysia.”

In apparent retaliation, Locsin then announced that he would also summon Malaysia’s ambassador to the Philippines after the former’s counterpart chided him for his remark.

The events put to life the “dormant” dispute over Sabah, a territory south of the Philippines declared part of the Malaysian federation in 1963.

There had only been intermittent discussions between the two Southeast Asian nations regarding the dispute.

The Philippines stakes its claim to Sabah from assertions that the Sultanate of Sulu rightfully owns the northern part of Sabah, as several historians believe the former Sultan of Sulu was gifted with the land in exchange for helping the Sultan of Brunei defeat his adversaries.

In June 2016, then President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said he would stick to the government’s original position on the Sabah issue.

Months later, however, he agreed with then Prime Minister Najib Razak to set aside the issue.