Sabah on Duterte, Mahathir minds?

March 06, 2019
Rodrigo Duterte
Rodrigo Duterte

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad are set to meet today to discuss economic and political cooperation between the two countries, with the Philippine claim to Sabah possibly on the agenda.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the 93-year-old Malaysian leader will pay an official visit to the country from March 6 to 7 upon the President’s invitation.

“President Duterte will officially welcome Prime Minister Mahathir at ceremonies in Malacañang Palace on March 7, 2019. The two leaders will then hold a bilateral meeting and discuss cooperation in the political, economic and people-to-people spheres, and exchange views on topics of mutual importance,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.

“This is Prime Minister Mahathir’s first visit to the Philippines since he assumed his position as the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia in 2018. During his previous term as prime minister, he undertook bilateral official visits in 1987 and 1994,” he said.

“Everything is possible when you meet a head of state, every issue is open,” Panelo said when asked if the Philippines’ claim on the disputed Sabah island would be among the topics to be discussed by them.

Since the 1870s, Sabah, or North Borneo has been disputed by the two countries. The territory was originally yielded by the Kingdom of Brunei to the Sultanate of Sulu. The residents, however, voted to become part of Malaysia when it became independent from Great Britain in 1963.

The visit of the Malaysian leader reciprocates President Duterte’s trip to Malaysia in July 2018 when the Chief Executive watched the world title fight of boxer Senator Manny Pacquiao.

During their meeting last year in Putrajaya, Malaysia, the two leaders “renewed and reaffirmed the long-standing brotherhood and friendship between the Philippines and Malaysia.”

The Palace said the country could expect a joint military training and enhanced defense cooperation with Malaysia as the two top leaders weighed in on the issues of security and defense, stressing the need to resolve terrorism, violent extremism, piracy, armed robbery at sea, and the illegal drug trade surrounding the region.