Sabah, sea row not on Noy-Bolkiah agenda

Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino is not likely to raise the issues of Sabah and the West Philippine Sea with Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei during his two-day state visit, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda flatly said “no” when asked whether Sabah would be discussed with Bolkiah.

Speaking to reporters, Lacierda said the Philippine position has always been to discuss the West Philippine Sea dispute before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“I can safely say that Brunei-Sabah is not going to be an issue,” Lacierda said. “Maritime disputes... I don’t think so. Insofar as these things are concerned, we have always agreed that the ASEAN is in the process of crafting and drafting the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.”

Lacierda said ASEAN should be the venue to discuss the West Philippine Sea dispute and that the code is being drafted precisely to address the issue.

“Brunei is going to be the chairman of the ASEAN,” he said.

“So, as to what the details will be, that’s something that will be taken up during the (bilateral talks).”

The consensus that the Philippines is pushing is to allow ASEAN to draft the Code of Conduct first and then ask China to look at it, Lacierda said.

Bolkiah arrived yesterday on a special flight of Royal Brunei Airlines at 3:30 p.m. with him piloting the Airbus A340.

Welcoming Bolkiah were Vice President Jejomar Binay, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, chairman Francis Tolentino of the Metro Manila Development Authority and Air Force commander Lt .Gen. Lauro Catalino de la Cruz.

Today Bolkiah will lead a wreath-laying ceremony at the Rizal Park in Manila and then proceed to Malacañang for welcome rites, bilateral talks with Aquino and a state luncheon.

Bolkiah will depart on April 16 at around 3:30 p.m.

Sulu sultanate hits Palace

The sultanate of Sulu lashed out at Malacañang yesterday for preempting the decision of Bolkiah to meet Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abegail Valte said over state-run radio dzRB: “The schedule is quite tight. I don’t see any opportunity for that – or, at least, for the visit of the Sultan (Bolkiah) here.”

Kiram’s spokesman Abraham Idjirani said the sultanate of Sulu is still awaiting the reply from the Brunei embassy about Kiram’s request to meet with Bolkiah.

“We did not send the letter to Malacañang,” he said. “Why is Malacañang preempting what the Sultan of Brunei has to say? Malacañang has usurped the authority of the Brunei royalty to make that decision.”

Idjirani said while Bolkiah may not have the time to meet Kiram, Malacañang’s reaction to the Sulu sultanate’s intention is already a victory for them.

“Malacañang is bent on preventing the advocacy of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to resolve the Sabah standoff peacefully,” he said. – With Rudy Santos, Mike Frialde


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