Philippine Territory

Writing from unreliable memory on matters that are not in the internet let me again recall that "Parao" (big motorized banca) trip with then VP Diosdado Macapagal in the late 50's when we traveled from Surigao to Bislig, Surigao. During that sojourn, VP Macapagal told us that when he was still working in the Department of Foreign Affairs, he was designated as Philippine Representative to negotiate with the British for the return of Turtle Islands. Macapagal said that during the negotiations, there were attempts by the British to denegrate his status and that of our country. He, however, firmly but diplomatically stated our position and he maintained his composure worthy of his rank as Philippine negotiator. In the course of the talks, Macapagal later earned the respect of his counterparts that they accomodated him in a well-appointed government guest house in "British North Borneo," Sabah. Needless to say, Turtle Island was returned to our country because of Macapagal's successful negotiation.

When VP Macapagal finished his story, I told him that Turtle Island was only a small bit of "British North Borneo" and that the territory was part of the Sultanate of Sulu and Sabah which was, even at that time, still being leased by the British government. Vice President Macapagal enthusiastically said that when he was elected president, the return of our North Borneo territory would be on top of his agenda. The Liberal party's platform would include the recovery of North Borneo (Sabah). Indeed the LP at that time was committed to "do all possible" in order to recover our Borneo territory. At that time the LP big shots were VP Macapagal, Senator Ferdinand Marcos, and Congressman Cornelio Villareal. When Macapagal became President, Marcos became the Senate President and Villareal became the Speaker of the House.

The Liberal Party was so committed to the recovery of our Sabah territory that when Ferdinand Edralin Marcos became the President of our country, he tried everything possible within the legal and diplomatic framework to recover our physical possession of our Sabah. I say this because even today Malaysia is still paying rental to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu and Sabah amounting to R73,940 (Philippine Pesos) or RM5,300. In fairness to the late PFEM, he tried to implement the Manila Agreement which was the result of the Summit in Manila among Macapagal, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and Sukarno that was signed by the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In that agreement, the Sabah issue would be submitted to the International Court of Justice for decision, unless the parties by common consent agreed to submit the dispute to arbitration. However during President Marcos' tenure, the Malaysians felt that they were already strong enough to resist the Philippine assertion of our sovereignty and ownership of Sabah. In addition they had the protection of the Naval and Airforce units of Great Britain who were operating in Labuan Island, Sabah. I know this to be a fact, because our PAF pilots who were operating F-5 Fighter planes based in Mactan during that period, told me that they sometimes flew over Sabah. When the RAF (British airforce) would scramble to meet them, the PAF would head back to Mactan to avoid any serious incident.

The Malaysians indeed reneged on the Manila Agreement and changed their tactics with the intention of breaking the agreement and the negotiations. I think that the last time that the Philippines and Malaysia had formal talks was when our Ambassador Leon Maria Guerrero had a heated exchange of words with the Malaysian negotiator Ghazalie bin Shafie. That ended our formal diplomatic initiatives. How could we proceed when Malaysia's position was,in effect, "What are you talking about? You have no claim." Now our sovereignty and legal rights to Sabah according to the Malaysians, are "nonesense" rene.g.espina@gmail.com

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