Malaysia is taking a cordial approach to its territorial dispute with the Philippines over the territory of Sabah, as Manila also does, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said in an exclusive interview with ANC’s Headstart that aired Friday.
“Let it rest for a while, and there should not be an issue that easily provoke or cause antagonism because there are too many things in common,” Anwar said.
Aside from the Sabah issue, Anwar — who completed a two-day official visit to the Philippines from Wednesday to Thursday — shared in the ANC interview his thoughts on the disputes in the South China Sea, the crisis in Myanmar, and the 1MDB scandal in his country, among others (see related stories on A1 – Editors).
Sabah is located east of Malaysia’s northern Borneo and southwest of Sulu in the Philippines — which lays claim over the area, citing a land lease agreement in 1878 between the Sultanate of Sulu and the British North Borneo Chartered Co.
“To be fair to the Filipino position, they’re not [hostile]… Let us evolve slowly. Although, it is tough for us because our people in Sabah feel that we should be more assertive in defending. But I think the President [Ferdinand Marcos Jr.] has been very cordial. That’s the Philippine position, that’s the Malay position,” Anwar said.
“These are two great nations. They must walk together. I represent this generation, and I told the President very clearly that… let us work together.”
Saying that Sabah is part of Malaysia, Anwar acknowledged nonetheless the Philippines’ contention.
A French arbitral court in 2022 ordered the Malaysian government to pay the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate $14 billion for its land lease violation dating back to 1878.
Malaysia refused to recognize the ruling. Anwar echoed Kuala Lumpur’s sentiments, saying claims to Sabah by descendants of the Sultan of Sulu are “ridiculous.”
“There are faults in our legal process, but it’s been corrected, and we will continue to win the cases,” he said.
Anwar was referring to an edict by a Luxembourg court last month ordering the cancelation of seizure by sultanate descendants of two Luxembourg-based subsidiaries of the Malaysian state oil firm Petronas in July 2022.
Malaysia had petitioned the court to declare the seizure invalid.
Anwar noted Filipino officials have not been involved in applications staking claims to Sabah.
“I don’t think it is a decision that would affect the sovereignty of the nations. To us, it is our national sovereignty. There are issues … which we can resolve. But it is a ridiculous claim,” he said of the French arbitration court decision.
Mr. Marcos has yet to publicly articulate his position on the country’s claim to Sabah since he became President in June last year, even as he said in his first State of the Nation Address that he will “not preside over any process that will abandon even a square inch of territory” of the Philippines to any foreign power.
But when he was still a senator in March 2013, he said in a statement to the press: “We, as a republic, have a claim over Sabah since the 1960’s. We have historical claim over Sabah and that’s a fact.”
“The Sultan of Sulu and his people are Filipino citizens, and, by virtue of that fact, they deserve protection from the government of the Philippines… It’s the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens,” he added.
His father, the late President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., said in September 1968 that the Philippines would pursue any peaceful means to stake its claims to Sabah and bring the issue to the International Court of Justice.