Aquino urged to pursue Sabah claim
Sultan's followers ignore Malaysia's Friday ultimatum
MANILA (UPDATED)- President Benigno Aquino should pursue the Philippines' claim on Sabah, a former Cabinet official said Friday.
The Philippines has already filed a claim on Sabah before the International Court of Justice, according to Amina Rasul, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID).
She said the Sultanate of Sulu has a historical claim on Sabah, which was upheld in the 1939 ruling of Chief Justice C.F.C. Macaskie of the High Court of North Borneo.
"The Philippine Government should protect the proprietary rights of Sultan Jamalul Alam's heirs," she said.
Citing the North Borneo High Court's ruling, she said the legal heirs on Sabah are Princess Hadji Piandao, Princess Tarhata Kiram, Princess Sakinur-In Kiram, Mora Napsa, Sultan Esmail Kiram, Datu Punjungan, Sitti Mariam, Sitti Jahara, and Sitti Rada.
"All the principal heirs have died. The rights of their heirs, most of whom are Filipino citizens, must be protected by the Philippine government," said Rasul, a former Presidential adviser on youth affairs and daughter of former Senator Santanina Rasul.
Last February 12, around 100 men led by Sulu Sultanate Crown Prince Agmuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan Jamalul III, arrived in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Kiram said they are reasserting their dominion over the contested territory to which the Philippines has a dormant historical claim, acting on a royal decree from the Sultan, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
They are now engaged in a standoff with Malaysian security forces.
Rasul said the Philippine government should create an inter-agency committee under the Office of the President to address the Philippine claim to Sabah.
"Past Philippine administrations have attempted to address the Sabah claim but were unable to reach a lasting and generally acceptable conclusion," she said.
"However, this must not discourage the stakeholders and peace advocates from pursuing an inclusive, just and sustainable formula that will satisfy the concerns not just of the Philippine and Malaysian governments but particularly of the Sulu Sultanate and the private heirs to Sabah," she added.
Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, in a text message to ABS-CBN News, said a Palace team is now looking into the historical and legal context of the Sabah claim.
"This will be dealt with at the proper time and under the correct conditions, in a way that upholds the national interest and does not jeopardize our relationship with our good neighbor," she said.
Valte added that the Aquino administration has been "working quietly" with the Malaysian government and the Kiram family to peacefully resolve the standoff.
Gazmin: Sultanate could be right on Sabah
The Sultanate of Sulu may have basis for its claim on Sabah in Malaysia, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Friday.
He said Kuala Lumpur pays the sultanate around 5,000 ringgit as annual rent for the area.
"If you are being paid, you have a claim, isn't it? That is your basis there. Even without saying anything, the fact (remains) that you are being paid. Meaning, what is the 5,000 ringgits for?" he said.
However, Gazmin said he is against the use of violence to settle the issue.
"You can settle this (issue) before going there. In other words, the process leading to their actions is apparently not right," the defense chief added.
He said Philippine military officials are in talks with their Malaysian counterparts to resolve the issue.
He added the Philippine Navy deployed ships in Sulu Sea to set up a naval blockade and prevent the situation from going bad to worse.
Sultan's followers won't leave Sabah
The Sultan of Sulu has reiterated an order to his followers not to leave Sabah despite a reported ultimatum given by Malaysian authorities to leave the island Friday.
In a press conference Friday, members of the Kiram family said they plan to go to international courts to defend their claim over Sabah.
The Kiram family also said they will not resort to violence.
"We wish to thank the president for looking into this problem on the claim to Sabah," Fatima Kiram said.
"The long standing problem, the claim of our ancestral domain which is now the contending issue between Malaysia and the Philippines," she added.
"In the Islamic spirit and in compliance of the teachings of Islam, the convenors and Muslim communities in the Philippines, the constituency of his royal highness Jamalulu Kiram III are calling for restraint on both sides in this standoff in order to de-esclate tension among brother Muslims," she said. - with reports from ANC; Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News