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'Sabah claim' handicap
Published on: Friday, November 20, 2015

Kota Kinabalu: The Philippines' reluctance to drop the Sabah claim is hindering efforts to forge to common front to combat the kidnap-for-ransom threat which is a menace to both nations.

"The first basic principle of resolving Sabah's security problem is for Philippines to drop the Sabah claim," State Culture, Tourism and Environment Minister Datuk Panglima Masidi Manjun said when closing the 1st Sulu Sulawesi Sea Conference at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Thursday.

"Only then we can have fruitful discussions and deal with them at arm's length just as Malaysia and Indonesia were able to forge very close collaboration with Indonesia that eventually defeated the Jemaah Islammiyah al-qaeda terrorist network (responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing)," Masidi said, with a opening reference to the brutal beheading of 39-year old Malaysian electrical engineer hostage, Bernard Then.

'The first principle of negotiation can be implemented only if Philippines considers Sabah as part of Malaysia since 1963," he said.

"But so long as the Philippine claim is not removed, it remains a thorn in the flesh in Malaysia-Philippines relations," Masidi asserted. "Look at the huge problem of illegals, until and unless Philippines take steps in helping us to process documents, we cannot send them back and this is our biggest problem.


For a long time, we have asked them to set up a consulate in Sabah to speed up the processing of travel documents, embassy people just come twice a year. How can we send illegals back because first, we must prove they are citizens of the Philippines. It's not that we don't want to send them back," Masidi argued. He said he knew Southern Philippines has attractive dive sites or even better ecotorism products in some ways and if we don't have this problem, we can easily persuade visitors to eastern Sabah to hop over to Mindanao and share the cake,' he added.

On 22 September this year, a dozen or so heavily armed Abu Sayyaf gangs raided Oceanview Resort, Samal Island northeast of Davao city and snatched away its Norwegian Manager, two Canadian guests, a Filipina while an American and his Japanese girlfriend reportedly jumped off the boat and escaped. The fate of these four now hangs on the balance after the gangs beheaded Malaysian engineer Bernard Then on Nov. 17.

Commending the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA), Sabah Security and Strategic Research Centre, UMS, and Sabah National Security Council for their initiative in organising the conference, Masidi said what Sabah really needs at this hour are "actionable" outputs.

"We want discussions that result in action, that can be implemented," he said. "I want to say that it'll be foolhardy for us to believe that the threat is not present," he said.


As such, Masidi suggested that the roles of Village Development and Security Committees be expanded to include intelligence work. "Not everybody is a bad hat but the role of JKKK can include intelligence because they are interacting with everybody, so they know who are in for good reasons and who are in for bad reasons."

Meanwhile, Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) Commander DCP Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun concurred that the fact that Filipino President Benigno Aquino III had reiterated his government's desire to continue claiming Sabah's sovereignty is a problem. "It is causing problems for the security forces and inviting trouble to the already troubled Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) where in many towns, immigrants outnumber the locals," he said, in his talk "Esscom – Defending the Esszone".

As late as May this year, Aquino maintained that the Philippines will not drop its claim over Sabah adding that giving up Sabah would "open such a big can of worms in this country". Such claim, said Rashid, is causing a headache to the security forces and is a thorn in the flesh of the Malaysian and Philippine governments.

The Philippines maintains a territorial claim over parts of eastern Sabah (formerly known as North Borneo ) by saying the agreement signed in 1878 between the Sultan of Sulu and the North Borneo Chartered Co. was merely a lease and did not strip the country of its sovereignty over the area.

But Malaysia considers the Sabah dispute as a "non-issue" as it interprets the 1878 agreement as that of cession and deems that residents of Sabah had exercised their right to self-determination when they formed the Malaysian Federation in 1963.

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