The Inbox

What to do with Sabah

Sabah standoff



As the 300 followers of the Sultanate of Sulu remain holed up in Sabah, the Philippines has no choice but to immediately act to prevent unwanted consequences that could lead to the “suspension” of relations with Malaysia again or, worse, possible bloodshed.

One option: For President Benigno S. Aquino III to reconvene soonest the Bipartisan Executive-Legislative Advisory Council on the Sabah Issue that then President Fidel V. Ramos created in 1993 but has lain dormant since the Arroyo administration.

Created days before Ramos’ historic visit to Malaysia in 1993, the council was already in the thick of discussion with Malaysia on economic activities for the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu when its work was stalled first by the 1998 elections and later by the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Historically, and without question, Sabah belongs to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.

But when the Philippines began pressing its claim on the North Borneo territory, bilateral relations between the two ASEAN member countries went cold: Malaysia “suspended” diplomatic relations with the Philippines in September 1968 and the Philippines responded in kind. Diplomatic relations between the two countries resumed in December 1969, but they were at best “chilly.”

Because of the chilly bilateral relations, Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari in late 1969 took up Malaysia on its offer to train the Southern Philippine rebels. He led 90 handpicked men to a training camp in West Malaysia, Pangkor Island in the State of Perak.

“There the men underwent more than one year training, including warfare, military history and tactics, weapons, politics, communications, and self-descent from helicopters. Nur Misuari was the leader of this first class of trainees, called the First Ninety, or F-1 for Freedom-1,” said Tom Stem, author of Nur Misuari, An Authorized Biography.

The development led President Ferdinand Marcos to announce on Aug. 4, 1977 that “the Philippines is taking definite steps to eliminate one of the burdens of ASEAN, the Philippine claim to Sabah.”

In addition, on June 25, 1980, then Philippine Foreign Minister Arturo Tolentino informed the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Conference in Kuala Lumpur that the Philippines’ claim to Sabah “is closed.”

These declarations were, however, overshadowed by the security problems brought about by the New People’s Army in the North and in the Visayas, and the MNLF in the South which the government had to focus on. In 1986, relations between Manila and Kuala Lumpur stayed icy despite the EDSA revolt that led to the ascension of President Corazon Aquino into power.

Relations thawed only when Ramos made his historic visit to Kuala Lumpur in late January of 1993. It was the first visit of a sitting Philippine president to Malaysia.

On Jan. 11, 1993, prior to his decision to visit Malaysia, Ramos issued Executive Order 46 establishing the Bipartisan Executive-Legislative Advisory Council on the Sabah Issue. As Presidential Adviser on Foreign Affairs, I was designated officer in charge of the council’s secretariat.

A few days later, Ramos announced he was going to Malaysia to undertake his first “official” visit from Jan. 27-30. This despite having gotten no official invitation from Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir. All Ramos had was a private invitation from the Malaysian King and the Malaysian Parliament.

After he was received by the King, Ramos was informed that Mahathir had agreed to meet him privately. Mahathir was accompanied by his private secretary while I accompanied Ramos.

It was at this meeting that Ramos delivered his famous icebreaker. Shaking Mahathir’s hand, he said, “Let’s put all our problems in the backburner and move forward as brothers.”

Mahathir agreed and personally invited Ramos to stay in Kuala Lumpur and the rest of Malaysia for the next three days.

The three days produced a memorandum of understanding on the Joint Commission on the Bilateral Cooperation finally signed in July 1993, Border Crossing Agreement and Joint Patrol signed in 1996 and the establishment of the Malaysian Consulate in Davao in December 1995.

After Ramos’ visit to Malaysia, the Bipartisan Executive-Legislative Advisory Council on Sabah first met in February 1993. It agreed to quietly work with the Malaysians to uplift the economic conditions of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu by establishing a semi-private corporation to engage in any economic and trading arrangements that would financially upgrade the lives of the heirs.

To jumpstart the economic activities for the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, a validated list of heirs first had to be created. Thus, from mid-1993 to 1996, the council tediously examined, validated and revalidated documents and other historical proofs that would confirm who among the so many claimants were the direct real heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.

The validation process took much longer and a semifinal list was finally drawn in 1997.

In mid-1997, the proposed corporation’s by-laws had also been finalized, and the council was all set to submit the documents to Ramos and Mahathir for approval. However, the campaign fever for the 1998 national elections overtook events.

In July 1999, one year after he became president, Estrada issued Executive Order 117 reconstituting the Bipartisan Executive-Legislative Advisory Council on the Sabah Issue. However, little would happen during the short-lived Estrada administration.

When President Gloria Arroyo took over, I turned over to then Secretary of National Defense and later Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita all the records of the Bipartisan Executive-Legislative Advisory Council on the Sabah Issue and briefed him on what had been accomplished by the council so far and what could still be further done.

It is worth noting that during Ramos’ time, when the council was actively meeting and busy evaluating the documents and personalities of the claimants, the Malaysian embassy in Manila was properly informed of developments on the council’s working progress.

When the issue on the capitalization of the proposed corporation came up, the Malaysian embassy had been authorized by Kuala Lumpur to assure the council that whatever amount would be decided upon by the council, the Malaysian government was willing to sit down with it and work out arrangements to provide the sum.

If and when reconvened, the Bipartisan Executive-Legislative Advisory Council on the Sabah Issue can take up from where it left off more than a decade ago.

The council should be mandated to restart a thorough legal, political, financial, historical and strategic study on the Sabah issue. It should focus on the definition of the territorial extent of the Philippine claim, the legal position on the status of the Sultanate of Sulu, and the financial implications to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.

(A retired career diplomat, Jose Apolinario L. "Jun" Lozada, Jr. served as presidential adviser for foreign affairs to President Fidel V. Ramos. As member of the House of Representatives, 1998-2004, he was chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations. He is now consultant in the Office of the Vice President.)

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for “true.”)


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Pacmania sweeps Philippines ahead of Mayweather clash
    Pacmania sweeps Philippines ahead of Mayweather clash

    Manny Pacquiao's face is on shirts, dolls and postage stamps, his life story is playing in movie houses and millions are getting ready to party as the Philippine boxing hero's "fight of the century" nears. Pacmania is sweeping the Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people ahead of the May 2 Las Vegas bout against unbeaten Floyd Mayweather to decide who is the best boxer of their generation. Of course, it's the fight of the century," Manila film producer Lucky Blanco told AFP. …

  • Ex-Cavite governor gets PCSO top post
    Ex-Cavite governor gets PCSO top post

    After nearly a year, President Aquino finally made good his promise to a long-time ally – former Cavite governor and congressman Erineo Maliksi – to head the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), replacing Margarita Juico who resigned in May 2014. Maliksi must be officially elected by the PCSO board members as their chairman. Prior to his appointment to the PCSO, Maliksi faced graft charges before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the alleged illegal purchase of P2.5 million worth …

  • US, Phl military exercises to focus on sea defense
    US, Phl military exercises to focus on sea defense

    A massive deployment of aircraft, personnel and warships characterizes this year’s Balikatan between the two allies, which war games were launched 30 years ago. Commander Lued Lincuna, Philippine Navy public affairs chief, said the Marine Battalion Landing Team-4 (MBLT-4) will link  up with the US 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force. …

  • P-Noy seeking united Asean stand on China
    P-Noy seeking united Asean stand on China

    With China’s actions threatening to “considerably alter the way of doing business globally,” President Aquino will ask the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take a united stand against Beijing’s massive reclamation activities and other provocative acts in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea. Aquino will raise the appeal to his ASEAN counterparts when they meet on April 27-28 in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi in Malaysia. Beijing reacted immediately to the plan, saying the …

  • OIC exec backs BBL, says passage to end extremism
    OIC exec backs BBL, says passage to end extremism

    The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) yesterday backed the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), warning that failure to see the peace process through with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could open the door to extremism. OIC secretary-general Iyad Bin Amin Madani, who is in the country to rally support for the peace process and the BBL, told reporters at the Senate yesterday that the Philippines should not waste the opportunity to attain lasting peace in Mindanao, especially …

  • Senate plan to probe corruption in judiciary opposed
    Senate plan to probe corruption in judiciary opposed

    The head of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) is opposing the plan of the Senate to investigate alleged “justice for sale” in the judiciary. In an interview yesterday, IBP national president Vicente Joyas contested the pronouncement of Senate President Franklin Drilon that the Senate Blue Ribbon committee can probe the reported corruption in the judiciary, as it remains part of the scope of the Senate’s investigative power. “The plan of the Senate to push through with the …

  • PNP: Floyd camp charging P.2 M for pay-per-view
    PNP: Floyd camp charging P.2 M for pay-per-view

    The camp of Floyd Mayweather is reportedly charging the Philippine National Police P200,000 for a pay-per-view deal of his fight with Manny Pacquiao, a PNP official said yesterday. Director Danilo Constantino, the PNP’s Chief Directorial Staff, said the cost of the pay-per-view for the fight makes it difficult for the PNP to sponsor the free viewing for its personnel and their dependents at Camp Crame’s multi-purpose center. “We are currently negotiating for the pay-per-view and we ever …

  • No disruption in gun permit issuance – PNP
    No disruption in gun permit issuance – PNP

    There has been no disruption in the issuance of permits to carry firearms outside residence (PTCFOR) since former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima was suspended in December 2014, an official said yesterday. PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina is the one signing the PTCFOR cards, PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. said. Cerbo, however, could not say when Espina started signing the cards and how many PTCFORs have …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options