THE Philippines has a claim over Sabah, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said yesterday after visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad declared that the country has “no claim” over the disputed territory.
“The position of the President…meron tayong claim. E totoo naman may claim tayo diba? That has been a bone of contention, nung time pa ata ni Presidente Marcos ‘yan e,” Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
In 2016, then-President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said he would stick to the government’s original position on the Sabah issue, which is to invoke the country’s claim over the oil-rich territory.
In a television interview on Thursday morning, Mahathir, who is currently in the country for a two-day visit, stressed that the Philippines has “no claim” over Sabah.
“As far as we’re concerned, there is no claim,” Mahathir said.
The Malaysian leader was expected to hold a “restricted meeting” and an expanded bilateral meeting with Duterte in Malacañang on Thursday afternoon.
However, Panelo said the two leaders would not discuss the Sabah issue in the meetings.
“It is not on the agenda (of the meetings), as far as I know,” he said.
Sabah, or North Borneo, was originally yielded by the Kingdom of Brunei to the Sultanate of Sulu.
Sabah’s residents, however, voted to become part of Malaysia when it became an independent state from the influence of Great Britain in 1963.
In 2013, followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III traveled to Sabah from Tawi-Tawi and occupied a village in Lahad Datu town to invoke his clan’s ancestral claim to the eastern Malaysian territory. This erupted to an armed conflict with Malaysian security forces.
At the end of the standoff, around 56 militants were killed together with six civilians and 10 Malaysian security forces. The rest of the militants were either captured, or has escaped back to the Philippines.
Nine Filipinos were sentenced to death by a Malaysian court over the attack in Lahad Datu.