Palace denies offering Sabah to Malaysia to bolster case vs China

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Wednesday, 1 April 2015 - Last Updated on January 13, 2017

Malacanang has denied a report saying the Philippines has dropped its Sabah claim to gain Malaysia’s support in the territorial dispute case filed against China before the United Nations.

“Absolutely, no truth to that information that there’s a supposed quid pro quo to drop the Sabah claim,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in an Inquirer.net report.

Valte was referring to a Vera Files report citing a Department of Foreign Affairs’ note verbale to the Malaysian embassy last week. The note allegedly stated that the DFA is “reviewing” its protest in 2009 against Malaysia’s claim over Sabah.

In 2009, Malaysia asserted its claim over the Sabah territory in its joint submission with Vietnam to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Shortly after this, the Philippine government sent a note the UN Secretary General to protest Malaysia’s claim.

In a separate territorial dispute, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and China are claimants of Spratlys islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

According to the VERA Files report, the DFA also requested Malaysia to soften its claim on Spratlys islands in exchange for the Sabah deal.

Lawmakers have demanded an explanation from the DFA over the issue.

“I think it deserves DFA Secretary Del Rosario to explain this note verbale. We cannot state that we were dropping, it will be treason if somebody will drop the Sabah claim because we have a very good legal title of the Sabah,” Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said in a report.

Albay Rep. and House Committee on Foreign Affairs chair Al Francisco Bichara said the DFA should have consulted Congress first assuming that the downgrading of the Sabah claim is true.

Meanwhile Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. affirmed Valte’s statement, saying the note verbale between the Philippines and Malaysia was just part of the regular consultation process, and that Sabah was not part of that note.

But VERA Files countered this, saying Sabah was mentioned in the note verbale.

“Note Verbale No. 15-1979 sent to Malaysia, the basis of VERA Files’ story, stated that it is reviewing the Aug. 4 2009 protest (No. 000819) it filed with the United Nations. The Philippines’ August 2009 protest, contained in two pages, singles out North Borneo or the old name of Sabah,” the group of independent journalists said.

Sabah (North Borneo) is home to more than 600,000 Filipinos, most of them considered by the Malaysian government as illegal residents.

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