KOTA KINABALU (BERNAMA, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia on Saturday denounced repeated suggestions by an adviser to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that Sabah should be designated as the 13th state of the Philippines.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rubbished remarks by Aquilino Pimentel Jr, a member of the Philippines Consultative Committee appointed by Duterte to review the 1987 Philippines Constitution as part of his push for a federal system, reported in the media on Friday.
Pimentel was reported to have said in an interview on Tuesday that "there should be a way that is acceptable under international laws to assert our claim to Sabah".
"I think we can defer it a little bit more but to say that we stop doing it is not in the context of my proposal," he said.
Under Pimentel's proposal, the Philippines will be divided into 12 federal states: Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Minparom, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao and Bangsamoro.
Metro Manila will be the "federal capital" Pimentel said, adding that Sabah could be the 13th federal state.
"Once we have asserted our sovereignty and rights over Sabah, we should include Sabah.
"Not only Sabah, but also Scarborough, Benham Rise, and Spratlys," he said, referring to other regions whose sovereignty is disputed between the Philippines and China.
Malaysia's MFA said on Saturday such comments have the potential to damage the excellent bilateral relations between Malaysia and the Philippines.
"This is the second time this year that Pimentel Jr made baseless remarks related to Sabah," the ministry said in a statement.
"These statements can hinder efforts to further strengthen bilateral relations which are important not only for the two countries, but the region as a whole," it added.
Sabah Chief Minister Mohd Shafie Apdal likewise denounced Pimental Jr's proposal.
Shafie said it was not "wise" for Pimentel to use the issue as political material to win support from communities in the Philippines.
"The elections might be coming, and this may be part and parcel of how they are garnering support from their own communities, but I don't think it's wise to do that," he told reporters on Saturday.
"As part of Asean, we are working together as partners. But they must also be sensitive about issues that are dear to us Malaysians."
He reiterated that a referendum was also held by the Cobbold Commission on the formation of Malaysia, and the people of Sabah and Sarawak had collectively agreed to be part of the federation.
"There is no legal foundation for the Philippines to claim Sabah as belonging to them. This is our country, this is our state, and this is our land," Shafie said.