DFA seeks to revive Office of North Borneo Affairs

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
DFA seeks to revive Office of North Borneo Affairs
Malaysia issued its second note verbale rejecting Philippine territorial claims over Sabah.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines’ top diplomat is considering resurrecting the Office of North Borneo Affairs in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) after Malaysia filed a diplomatic protest rejecting the Philippines’ Sabah claim.

“I remember an old bureau within the DFA exclusively devoted to the issue. Wonder if it’s still up. Will resurrect or revitalize it,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted yesterday.

Malaysia issued its second note verbale rejecting Philippine territorial claims over Sabah.

The heirs to the Sultanate of Sulu have asked the Philippine government to revive the long dormant Office of the North Borneo Affairs (ONBA) at the DFA.

Locsin said the Philippines will not abandon its territorial claim over Sabah despite aggressive financial offers.

He said there have been “repeated offers” in the past involving huge amounts of money for the Philippines to drop its claims over Sabah, formerly known as North Borneo.

“The Filipino public must know that what is on offer is huge so the temptation to betray is commensurately humongous,” he said.

The secretary said the offers were made to presidential candidates.

“As a matter of history there have been repeated offers to abandon our Sabah claim from aspiring presidential candidates since the late 1970s, usually opposition because they are most in need of campaign funds but administration as well. Don’t even dream of it,” Locsin said.

On Wednesday, Locsin said the Philippines will certainly never give up Sabah as the country has the legal ownership and sovereignty.

He corrected a report calling Filipinos in Sabah as repatriates, saying they should be referred to as “transferees.”

The secretary emphasized that Sabah is not in Malaysia.

“Now, what’s important to stress here is they should be careful with their language,” Locsin said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart on Wednesday.

“What is important therefore is to say call them transferees, not repatriates. They’re not being repatriated; they’re just being transferred,” he said.

The secretary stressed that the Philippine claim is longstanding and well-known and it predates even the creation of Malaysia itself in 1963.

“And while we have always endeavored not to let it affect our relations with Malaysia, well, it’s up to them. But we will certainly never give it up,” Locsin said.

As the successor in sovereignty of the Sultanate of Sulu, Locsin said “the Philippines has legal ownership and sovereignty over Northern Borneo,” which was only leased to the British North Borneo Company in 1878 and as agreed among the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia when they signed the Manila Accord of 1963.

“The inclusion of the North Borneo in the Federation of Malaya is subject to the outcome of the Philippine claim to North Borneo. So, that’s the situation now,” he added.

According to Locsin, he complained to US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo about the “idiot” US tweet which mentioned Sabah in Malaysia.

The Foreign Ministry of Malaysia summoned Philippine Ambassador to Kuala Lumpur Charles Jose over a “Sabah is not in Malaysia” tweet of Locsin, with Manila reciprocating by also summoning Malaysia’s top diplomat here.

Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein responded to Locsin’s tweet, calling it an “irresponsible statement that affects bilateral ties.”

In a tweet, Locsin threatened the US embassy in Manila after it posted on Twitter the US Agency for International Development (USAID) donation.

“@usaid_manila donated 500 hygiene kits to the @dswdserves Region IX for use by returning Filipino repatriates from Sabah, Malaysia who arrived in Zamboanga City and Bongao, Tawi Tawi,” the embassy said in a tweet.

He corrected the US embassy for referring to Sabah as part of Malaysia.

“Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines,” Locsin tweeted.

The same tweet was also posted by USAID Philippines on its official Twitter account.

Locsin also said “You better edit that announcement if you know what’s good for you.”

Turning to his Malaysian counterpart, the secretary said he only made a “factual” statement with his remark that Sabah is not in Malaysia.

He also disclosed that Malaysia tried to derail the arbitral award after the Philippines challenged China’s excessive and expansive claims in the South China Sea.

“You summoned our ambassador for a historically factual statement I made: that Malaysia tried to derail the Arbitral Award. This was reported to us by our diplomats on the scene and our German lawyer. None may share our Hague victory who worked against it,” Locsin said.

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