Sabah claim: Duterte unfazed by Malaysian leader's comment
Alexis Romero ( - June 1, 2016 - 7:18pm

MANILA, Philippines — President-elect Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday maintained that he was not fueling the Sabah dispute when he said that he would pursue the Philippines’s claim to the area.

Duterte said he was just reiterating the Philippines’s stance on the dispute, which stemmed from the transfer of Sabah to the Federation of Malaysia in the 1960s.

“I’m not igniting something. We stick to the original position of government. Nothing has changed.” 

Duterte said he would only pursue the Philippines’s Sabah claim through peaceful means.

“We don’t have the luxury of getting into trouble anymore. We can’t afford it. We might as well talk to everybody and develop our country,” the incoming Philippine president said.

Last week, Duterte said he would pursue the Philippines’ claim to Sabah, an area south of Mindanao that is now being administered by Malaysia.

Duterte also said he would recognize the claim of the sultanate of Sulu to the area.

“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,” he said in an earlier interview.

Duterte’s comment did not sit well with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who said that the next Philippine president might “reignite” the dispute between their countries. He said Duterte should just prioritize the decades-old insurgency in the south than pursue the Sabah claim.

The sultanate of Sulu used to rule over parts of southern Philippines and Sabah. In 1963, the British government transferred Sabah to the then newly-formed Federation of Malaysia.

The Philippine government insists that Sabah was only leased, not ceded, to the British North Borneo Co. The heirs of the Sulu sultanate still receive lease payments for Sabah.

Malaysia, however, claims that the international community has been recognizing Sabah as part of its territory since the federation was formed in 1963.

In 2013, followers of then Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram entered Lahad Datu in Sabah to assert their territorial rights over the area. The entry resulted in clashes that left dozens of Kiram’s followers and Malaysian troops dead.

The Aquino administration has disowned Kiram’s actions and assured Malaysia that it does not support violent means of asserting territorial claims.

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