We didn’t discuss Manila’s claim on Sabah at bilateral talks, says Saifuddin

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

KUALA LUMPUR: Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah today said Putrajaya and Manila had not discussed the latter’s claim over Sabah at recent meetings.

“It was never on the table during our bilateral meetings,” Saifuddin told reporters after speaking at the “Stand for Yemen” event here, following FMT reports on the matter.

On Thursday, the Philippines ambassador to Malaysia, Charles C Jose, after paying a courtesy visit on Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, told the media that Manila had not dropped its claim over Sabah.

He, however, said Manila was not pursuing the matter actively at the moment as the Philippines embassy was more focused on helping to solve the issue of undocumented Filipinos in Sabah.

Asked repeatedly if Putrajaya was aware of Jose’s remark and Manila’s serious claim, Saifuddin pointed to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s upcoming visit to Manila.

“Well, the prime minister is visiting Manila on March 7 and 8.

“I’m sure we are visiting Manila to foster greater ties between Malaysia and the Philippines,” he said, without commenting further.

The Malaysian government has consistently rejected the Philippines’ claim.

The latest was in July last year when Aquilino Pimentel Jr, a member of the Philippines’ Consultative Committee, proposed the inclusion of the state in the Philippines’ territory.

Former chief minister Musa Aman had rejected the claim and reiterated that Sabah did not recognise or acknowledge any claim by the Philippines or any other country over the state.

Despite frequent statements to the media, Manila has yet to make any formal move like registering an official claim at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Following Jose’s remarks, an enraged Parti Bersatu Sabah member yesterday said the fact that Jose spoke about the Philippines’ claim to Sabah in front of the chief minister was disrespectful.

PBS secretary-general Jahid Jahim questioned the lack of response from Wisma Putra over this latest claim to Sabah.

“Now, it is clear that Manila is continuing its claim. Jose stated that it was never dropped.

“The relevant ministries must be stern and stop all activities or programmes related to documentation of foreigners,” Jahid said.

‘Stand With Yemen’

Saifuddin was earlier speaking at the “Stand With Yemen” symposium and photo exhibition being held at the International Institute of Islamic Civilisation & Malay World (Istac) in Taman Duta, Kuala Lumpur.

The UN is trying to implement a truce and troop withdrawal deal in the main Yemeni port of Hodeidah that was agreed to in December talks as a trust-building step that could pave the way for political negotiations to end the conflict that is devastating Yemen.

Last year, the UN warned that up to 14 million Yemenis were on the brink of famine, with an aid agency estimating that some 85,000 children under the age of five might have died from malnutrition.

Malaysian troops were first deployed in 2015, but were recalled after the Pakatan Harapan government informed the Saudi government that Malaysian troops were to be relieved of their involvement in the war with Yemen.

Speaking on behalf of Mahathir, Saifuddin also announced the government would contribute US$100,000 (RM407,350) for Yemen during a UN event in Switzerland next week.

Saifuddin, at a press conference after the event, also said Putrajaya was open to proposals from civil society organisations (CSO) to provide Yemeni children formal education and opportunities to work here.

“They do a better job than us,” Saifuddin said, to which the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia chairman Razali Ismail said it was not only for CSOs to see this through and asked Putrajaya to do more.

Refugees, such as those from the Rohingya and Yemeni communities, currently are not allowed to go to national schools or work legally in the country given their lack of citizenship or documentation papers.

Recently, however, Saifuddin was reported as saying the federal government was considering plans to allow refugees access to public schools, hospitals and the workforce.

Karyn Denise Dula Magno contributed to this article.