Philippines to resurrect Sabah claim office, says foreign secretary

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr has insisted that Manila will not give up its claim on Sabah. (AP pic)

PETALING JAYA: Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr has said he will revive an office in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) dedicated to efforts to reclaim Sabah, a move seen as further reigniting a long-standing diplomatic row with Malaysia.

Locsin tweeted yesterday that there is “an old bureau within the DFA exclusively devoted to the issue”, referring to the Office of North Borneo Affairs.

“Wonder if it’s still up. Will resurrect or revitalise it,” he said.

Locson, who revived the controversy by saying in July that Sabah “is not in Malaysia”, also claimed that offers of “huge” bribes had been made by Philippine presidential candidates to officials over the years to drop their claim on Sabah.

“The Filipino public must know that what is on offer is huge so the temptation to betray is commensurately humongous,” he said.

In a series of tweets, he claimed that there have been repeated offers from aspiring presidential candidates since the late 1970s to abandon the Philippine claim on Sabah, adding that these candidates were usually from the opposition and in need of campaign funds.

This comes after the Philippines’ house foreign affairs committee last week called for the Philippine map, showing a 200-mile exclusive economic zone which included Sabah, to be printed on Philippine passports.

The Philippines has a long-standing claim on Sabah based on the historical ownership of the Sultan of Sulu over what used to be North Borneo.

On its part, Malaysia has said it does not recognise and will never entertain any claim by any party to Sabah, which officially became a part of Malaysia during the country’s formation in 1963.

The Malaysian permanent mission to the United Nations submitted a note last Friday which stated that Kuala Lumpur “has never recognised the Republic of the Philippines’ claim to the Malaysian state of Sabah, formerly known as North Borneo”.

Following Locsin’s tweet in July that Sabah is not in Malaysia, Foreign Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the statement was “irresponsible” and would affect bilateral ties.

While Locsin told Filipino media last Thursday he did not want to spoil diplomatic relations with Malaysia, he insisted the Philippines would not give up its claim on Sabah.

“While we have always endeavoured not to let it affect our relations with Malaysia, well, it’s up to them. But we will certainly never give it up,” he said.

“As the successor in sovereignty of the sultanate of Sulu, the Philippines has legal ownership and sovereignty over Northern Borneo, or what I call the tropical island of Borneo.”