Duterte vows to pursue Philippine claim to Sabah

Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte gestures at a news conference in Davao city, southern Philippines, on May 26, 2016.
Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte gestures at a news conference in Davao city, southern Philippines, on May 26, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

DAVAO CITY/KUALA LUMPUR - Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to pursue the country's claim to Sabah, now being administered by Malaysia.

Mr Duterte reportedly said he would recognise the claim of the sultanate of Sulu, which used to rule over parts of southern Philippines and Sabah, before the British government transferred Sabah to the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

The Philippines claims that Sabah was only leased, not ceded, to the British North Borneo Co. The heirs of the Sultan of Sulu continue to receive lease payments for Sabah, the Philippine Star reported.

"What has been the policy will always be the policy of the government especially those for the interest of the country. We have to stake our claim," the Philippine Star quoted Mr Duterte as saying on Wednesday (May 25).

In response, Malaysia's ministry of foreign affairs said on Friday (May 27) Sabah is internationally recognised as part of Malaysian territory.

"The Government of Malaysia reiterates its position that Malaysia does not recognise and will not entertain any claims by any party on Sabah," the ministry said in a statement.

"Sabah is recognised by the United Nations and the international community as part of Malaysia since the formation of the Federation on 16 September 1963."

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said Sabah does not acknowledge any claim by the Philippines on the state.

"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 Friday.

"Our allegiance is to the Malaysian flag. The claim is irrelevant," The Star Online quoted him as saying.

The two countries were locked in a dispute over Sabah in 2013 after followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram entered Lahad Datu in Sabah to assert their rights over the area, the Philippine Star reported.

A series of armed encounters ensued when the followers refused to leave despite warnings given by Malaysian government forces. Dozens of Malaysian security personnel and sultanate followers died during the clashes, which spilled over to other parts of Sabah.

President Aquino had told Malaysia at the time that the actions of Kiram's followers were not sanctioned by the Philippine government.