Duterte wants Sabah, Malaysia says no

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Philippines SabahThe Philippines’ incoming President Rodrigo Duterte said he will press the country’s long-standing claim to annex Malaysia’s Sabah state, which is mainly a postulation of the Sultanate of Sulu, a group of islands in the south of the Philippines.

“I’ll stick to our claim,” he told reporters in Davao City on May 25, adding that “what has been the policy will always be the policy of the government.”

The Sulu sultanate used to rule over parts of southern Philippines and Sabah. In 1963, the British government transferred Sabah to the Federation of Malaysia, and the state is since recognised by the United Nations and the international community as part of Malaysia.

But the Philippines insist that Sabah was only “leased,” not ceded, by Sulu to the British North Borneo Company at that time, and the heirs of the then-Sultan of Sulu continue to receive lease payments for Sabah.

The dispute flared up in 2013 after followers of Jamalul Kiram, one of the claimants to the throne of the Sultanate, entered Lahad Datu in Sabah to assert their rights over the area. A series of armed encounters followed after they refused to leave despite warnings given by Malaysian government forces, and dozens of Malaysian security personnel and sultanate followers died during the clashes which spilled over to other parts of Sabah. The attack, however, was not sanctioned by the Philippine government at that time.

Earlier, successive Philippine presidents have pressed the Sultanate’s case, including an attempt by late President Ferdinand Marcos to train and equip a secret Muslim militia to take Sabah by force in 1967.

Sabah, in turn, does not acknowledge any claim by the Philippines on the state and will maintain the stand, said Chief Minister Musa Aman. He stated that Sabah has never recognised or acknowledged any such claim and will continue to be a part of the Malaysian federation – although there are currently tensions between his state and neighbouring Sarawak and the government in Peninsular Malaysia about another issue, the introduction of harsh Shariah penalties, which triggered discussions about a possible spin-off of the two states.

“Let me clearly state that Sabah is in Malaysia and has chosen to be and will continue to be a part of this sovereign nation since its formation,” he said in a statement on May 28 in response to Duterte.

Musa added that the people of Sabah are enjoying peace, stability and economic prosperity within Malaysia.

“Our allegiance is to the Malaysian flag. The [Philippine] claim is irrelevant,” he said.

On May 30, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak rebuked Duterte’s suggestion during his keynote address to open the Asia-Pacific Roundtable in Kuala Lumpur, urging the president-elect to instead use his time “more productively” to help resolve one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies in the southern Philippines.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Philippines’ incoming President Rodrigo Duterte said he will press the country’s long-standing claim to annex Malaysia’s Sabah state, which is mainly a postulation of the Sultanate of Sulu, a group of islands in the south of the Philippines.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Philippines SabahThe Philippines’ incoming President Rodrigo Duterte said he will press the country’s long-standing claim to annex Malaysia’s Sabah state, which is mainly a postulation of the Sultanate of Sulu, a group of islands in the south of the Philippines.

“I’ll stick to our claim,” he told reporters in Davao City on May 25, adding that “what has been the policy will always be the policy of the government.”

The Sulu sultanate used to rule over parts of southern Philippines and Sabah. In 1963, the British government transferred Sabah to the Federation of Malaysia, and the state is since recognised by the United Nations and the international community as part of Malaysia.

But the Philippines insist that Sabah was only “leased,” not ceded, by Sulu to the British North Borneo Company at that time, and the heirs of the then-Sultan of Sulu continue to receive lease payments for Sabah.

The dispute flared up in 2013 after followers of Jamalul Kiram, one of the claimants to the throne of the Sultanate, entered Lahad Datu in Sabah to assert their rights over the area. A series of armed encounters followed after they refused to leave despite warnings given by Malaysian government forces, and dozens of Malaysian security personnel and sultanate followers died during the clashes which spilled over to other parts of Sabah. The attack, however, was not sanctioned by the Philippine government at that time.

Earlier, successive Philippine presidents have pressed the Sultanate’s case, including an attempt by late President Ferdinand Marcos to train and equip a secret Muslim militia to take Sabah by force in 1967.

Sabah, in turn, does not acknowledge any claim by the Philippines on the state and will maintain the stand, said Chief Minister Musa Aman. He stated that Sabah has never recognised or acknowledged any such claim and will continue to be a part of the Malaysian federation – although there are currently tensions between his state and neighbouring Sarawak and the government in Peninsular Malaysia about another issue, the introduction of harsh Shariah penalties, which triggered discussions about a possible spin-off of the two states.

“Let me clearly state that Sabah is in Malaysia and has chosen to be and will continue to be a part of this sovereign nation since its formation,” he said in a statement on May 28 in response to Duterte.

Musa added that the people of Sabah are enjoying peace, stability and economic prosperity within Malaysia.

“Our allegiance is to the Malaysian flag. The [Philippine] claim is irrelevant,” he said.

On May 30, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak rebuked Duterte’s suggestion during his keynote address to open the Asia-Pacific Roundtable in Kuala Lumpur, urging the president-elect to instead use his time “more productively” to help resolve one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies in the southern Philippines.

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