KOTA KINABALU: Manila has not made any official claim on Sabah at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), so there is nothing to act on, said Sabah Assistant Finance Minister Ramlee Marahaban.
“If the Philippines has not even made the first material move, that is to lodge a claim at the ICJ, what’s to abolish or counter?”
He was referring to Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie Apdal’s pledge that the opposition party will “abolish the claim” to Sabah if it wins in the coming general election.
Ramlee said all this talk about claiming Sabah was just the domestic political noise in the Philippines.
“It is mere talk, nothing more. So, there’s no claim, let alone an official claim,” Ramlee told FMT.
“Such claims in the Philippines are decades-old and the Philippine leadership keeps changing.
“Some people in the Philippines keep raising the issue because they stand to gain political mileage from this issue.”
The long-standing claim resurfaced when former Philippine Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr recently said he would propose the inclusion of Sabah in Philippine territory as part of the country’s shift to a federal system of government.
Pimentel is a member of a consultative committee that President Rodrigo Duterte appointed to review the 1987 constitution.
He said there should be a way that was acceptable under international law to assert the Philippines’ claim to Sabah.
Ramlee said even if the Philippines did lodge its claim over Sabah at the ICJ, there was a procedure to follow.
“This matter falls under the purview of the foreign ministry and, hypothetically speaking, even if Warisan is the government, it’s a matter for Wisma Putra to handle,” said the Bugaya assemblyman.
Ramlee said Warisan was taking a non-issue as a serious matter.
He said if Warisan continues to give high priority to mere talk in the Philippines, it will be akin to the opposition party recognising mere political rhetoric as an official claim.
“Warisan is now trying to make a non-issue a sensitive issue and negatively affect our sovereignty and security.”
No reason for claim
Ramlee said the Philippine government had no reason to make the claim on Sabah at the ICJ.
“The United Nations and international community recognise Sabah as part of Malaysia.
“Malaysia and the Philippines have a good relationship and our neighbour does not want to jeopardise that relationship.
“Foreign Minister Anifah Aman recently said his Philippine counterpart had told him the Philippines would not make such a claim.”
He said it was apparent that the opposition party was willing to capitalise on anything, including a non-issue, to gain political support from the people.
“They have promised many things, such as creating Sabah’s own health and education ministries, as if we don’t have capable leaders taking care of those portfolios.
“They are desperate people who will cross the boundary and use sensitive issues such as religion and race to pursue their agenda.
“Now, they are saying they want to stop Sabah from falling into the hands of another nation and accusing us of doing nothing.
“But what’s there for Warisan to stop? They can’t stop people in the Philippines from just talking about Sabah.”
The assistant minister said the federal government led by Prime Minister Najib Razak had never forsaken the state, as claimed by Warisan.
He said Najib is the best prime minister for the nation and Sabah so far.
“The previous prime minister treated Sabah like a ‘stepchild’,” Ramlee said in an apparent reference to Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“Najib has promised that whatever Sabah’s rights taken intentionally or unintentionally will be returned.
“What’s important is the federal and Sabah governments have an intimate relationship that will benefit the state.
“Warisan will indulge in anything, including hate politics, to undermine this good relationship.”