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Marcos gov’t must clarify country’s Sabah claim — Roque

International law expert Harry Roque has advised President Marcos, Jr. to take an unequivocal stand in asserting the country’s sovereignty over Sabah given a recent French arbitral ruling favoring the Sultanate of Sulu heirs.

Roque urged the Marcos government to “decide once and for all if the country’s position on Sabah remains a territorial claim of the Philippine republic or a proprietary claim of the Sultanate of Sulu descendants.”

In a TV 5 interview, Roque said the Sultanate heirs’ legal victory bolsters the country’s claim to Sabah. The French court has ordered Malaysia to pay US$ 14.9 billion to the heirs for breach of an international private lease agreement.

“The Philippines has never given up its claim over the territory,” he stressed. “I advise our President to clarify whether the country would actively pursue this claim or allow the Sultanate heirs to deal with the Malaysian government in private.”

He said the President should make a firm decision on this matter since the Sultanate of Sulu heirs ceded or transferred the sovereignty of Sabah (then known as North Borneo) to the Philippines in 1962.

This served as the basis for the Philippine claim to Sabah that was initiated by the government of President Diosdado Macapagal in the 1960s.

“We consider the victory of the Sultanate descendants as a victory for the nation. According to the arbitral court, the Sultanate of Sulu is the owner of Sabah. Thus, we can say that Sabah is part of the Philippine territory,” Roque said.

Roque said the March 2022 arbitral ruling is in consonance with the 1939 British High Court’s Macaskie decision, which recognized the Sultanate descendants as rightful owners of Sabah.

He explained that the arbitral decision recognized that the 1878 contract entered into by Sultan Jamalul Ahlam with the representatives of the British North Borneo Company was a grant of a lease and not of sale.

Roque added that since 2013, Malaysia has failed to pay the annual cession money of RM5,300 to the heirs. This clause was stipulated in the 1878 contract and upheld by the 1939 Macaskie decision.

“Under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, otherwise known as the New York Convention, the Malaysian government has to pay the Sultanate heirs US$ 14.9 billion,” Roque said.

A former president of the Asian Society of International Law, Roque is the first Asian and Filipino to practice before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the United Nations (U.N.) Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda.

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