Lawmakers reject calls to renew Sabah claim-A A +A
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
MANILA (Updated) -- The Philippine Government should no longer revive its territorial claim to Sabah, lawmakers said, amid a tense standoff between Malaysian forces and followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram of Sulu.
Reports said about 400 followers of the sultanate – some of them armed – have refused to leave Sabah despite pleas from the Malaysian and Philippine governments for them to return to Sulu.
Malacañang said its priority is the safety of the Filipinos and the claim over the resource-rich Sabah is "dormant" for the meantime.
But for party-list representatives Walden Bello (Akbayan) and Angelo Palmones (Agham), the Philippine Government should already "shelve" its claim.
"We should shelve the Sabah claim. The last thing we need at a time when we have a territorial dispute with China is another territorial dispute," Bello said in a text message.
Bello was referring to the Philippines' ongoing territorial row with China over the West Philippine Sea.
Last month, the Philippines filed a case against China for its excessive territorial claims before the Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
"The current Sabah issue should be settled through a diplomatic channel. Reviving a sleeping issue is like waking up a resting ghost," Palmones added.
Sulu Representative Tupay Loong, for his part, said that while the claim of Sabah will benefit the Philippines, the government should carefully study the implications over its diplomatic relationship with Malaysia.
Asked whether he supports the move of Kiram's supporters to reclaim their supposed ancestral territory, Loong said: "If they will leave the area, their claim will die a natural death. If they will stay put, it we'll cause a high risk to their lives so that is their discretion."
The Philippines and Malaysian authorities are now in talks to reach a peaceful resolution to the week-long standoff in Sabah.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the talks were being conducted also with "other parties involved in the incident" and that it would be prudent for all to await the outcome of the talks.
Valte assured that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is doing its best to peacefully end the standoff "in line with our national interest."
Meanwhile, Senator Francis Escudero said the government should also look after the welfare of Filipinos who were born and raised in Sabah.
He said the DFA can set up a representative office in Sabah to document Filipinos who are stateless and thus deprived of social services from both the Malaysian and Philippine governments.
Escudero said Filipinos in Sabah pose a unique diplomatic dilemma for the government since the decision to maintain a status quo, which favors the good relations between the Philippines and Malaysia, leaves the fate of Filipinos living in the area hanging. (Kathrina Alvarez/Virgil Lopez/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)