It’s been a while since we last wrote about our Twitter-ranting top diplomat, but as always, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.’s posts are too crazy to be ignored.
This much is apparent when he today stood by his controversial tweet asserting the Philippines’ decades-old claim over Sabah. His incendiary comment led the Malaysian government to summon and demand an explanation yesterday from the Filipino ambassador in Kuala Lumpur, Charles Jose.
Only the pugnacious and undiplomatic secretary isn’t going down without a fight.
“No country can tell another what it can and cannot say about what the latter regards as rightfully its own. I don’t insist China say only what we want to hear about [the] Arbitral Award. It is free to say what it wants while we say and do what needs doing. That holds for Sabah,” Locsin wrote today.
A little brush up on history: the Philippines has a long-standing “valid and historic” claim over the northern part of Borneo — where Sabah is located — dating as far back as 1963. Then-President Diosdado Macapagal asserted that the Sultanate of Sulu owns the northern part of Sabah because several historians noted that the land was gifted by the Sultan of Brunei to the Sultan of Sulu after the latter helped the former defeat its enemies.
Malaysia, which has control over Sabah, recognizes it as one of its 13 states and cites an 1878 land lease agreement between the Sultanate of Sulu and the British North Borneo Chartered Company (the United Kingdom occupied the area at the time), which they claim rightfully ceded the territory to Kuala Lumpur.
The decades-old territorial dispute resurfaced when Locsin on Monday tweeted at the account of the U.S. Embassy in Manila, saying that “Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines.”
Locsin made the reprimand after the American embassy posted photos of hygiene kits being distributed to “returning Filipino repatriates from Sabah, Malaysia.”
The foreign secretary’s remark reached his Malaysian counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who said yesterday that Locsin’s tweet was “an irresponsible statement” that would affect the relationship between Manila and Kuala Lumpur.
“Sabah is, and will always be, part of Malaysia,” Hussein asserted.
In an earlier response to the tweet, Locsin yesterday claimed that Ambassador Jose was summoned despite what the secretary alleged was a “factual statement” that he had made.
“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,” he tweeted.
As a result, Locsin was attacked by some Twitter users because he has avoided publicly calling out China, which has occupied parts of the West Philippine Sea, an area that Manila regards as part of its territory.
Locsin told them in response, “We have and continue to assert our s rights in the Spratlys/WPS. I am doing that with regard to Sabah. There have been repeated attempts to sell that claim but no Philippine president has succumbed.”
Earlier this week President Rodrigo Duterte said on his State of the Nation Address that he is “inutile” when it comes to protecting the West Philippine Sea from China’s encroachment — despite an international court backing Manila’s claim on the territory — because Beijing is fully-equipped for war, something that the Philippines is not prepared for.
This article, Top diplomat Locsin stands by controversial ‘Sabah’ tweet despite Malaysia’s fury, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!