SolGen to head Sabah review

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday said he will personally supervise the task force that will study the country’s claim on Sabah.

“I will personally head the task force that will review the implications of this arbitration between the two parties and submit an appropriate report at a future time,” Guevarra said during the organizational meeting of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

“For now, we just have recently constituted this team but for purposes of supervising the work of the Solicitor General himself, that means myself will supervise and oversee the study,” he added.

He made the statement after he was asked by Senator Francis Tolentino, chair of the panel what measures his office had done over the recent decision of the French arbitration court which favored the claims of the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu against the Malaysian government over Sabah.

The senator is referring to the Paris Arbitration Court’s decision last March which required the government of Malaysia to pay $14.92 billion to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu.

For its part, the OSG assured lawmakers that the body is already addressing the Sabah dispute between the two parties.

“As of 9 August 2022, our office is already forming a team to study the matter,” Assistant Solicitor General Secretary Marissa de la Cruz said.

Tolentino also proposed to the OSG a creation of a special body that will handle the arbitration cases of the country.

Filipinos in Sabah

In the same committee hearing, the Commission on Human Rights was urged to extend its aid to Filipinos living in Sabah who are considered “stateless” by the government of Malaysia.

“My proposal is this — when you are attending international fora, are you raising the matter of statelessness of Filipinos living in Sabah the same manner as other countries are acknowledging the statelessness of Rohingya, those replaced in the Ukraine war,” Tolentino said.

At the moment, about 800,000 to 1,000,000 Filipinos living in the disputed territory are considered stateless, according to the lawmaker.

Earlier, Senator Robinhood “Robin” Padilla urged the government to support the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu in their claim over Sabah.

Padilla asserted that the claims of the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu over Sabah are valid through the decision of the Paris Arbitration Court.

As this developed, an official of the Sultanate of Sulu urged President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr yesterday to reactivate the defunct Sabah Desk (Sulu and North Borneo desk) to pursue the Sabah territorial claim against Malaysia and enforce the $14.9 billion award granted by a French arbitration court.

Sabah desk

The official told the Daily Tribune that the Sabah desk which was created by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in March 2004 has initiated talks with Malaysia where the return of Sabah and the payment of $26 billion dollar to the heirs was the agenda.

During the initial meeting of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Albert and former Malaysian minister of foreign affairs Sayed Albae Datu Alludin Kiram, the vice chairperson of the Sultanate demanded the return of Sabah to the Philippines and the payment to the heirs of $26 billion compensation for the exploitation of natural resource of the disputed territory.

Albert at that time had ordered the revival of the Sabah desk (Office of Sulu and North Borneo) in March 2004 to undertake research on legal and historical aspects of the Sabah claim.

“A day after the meeting a fire broke out at the Sabah affairs office and that was the last time that the Sabah issue was discussed by Malaysia and Philippines,” the source said.

The source said the activation of the Office of Sulu and North Borneo at the Department of Foreign Affairs was the first salvo of the Philippine government to pursue the historic and proprietary rights of the Sultanate over the disputed territory.

The officials said that the ruling of the French arbitral court can be used as a basis for the revival of talks with Malaysia.

The $26 billion was the original amount filed before the French arbitration court but reduced to $14.9 billion in the final court decision.

“As private claimants, the Sultanate can pursue the enforcement of a $14.9 billion compensation award while the government can also pursue its territorial claim over Sabah,” the official said.

Bilateral talks

The late Former Special envoy to Malaysia Wencelito Andanar in an exclusive interview with the Daily Tribune before he died on 22 April 2001, said

The decision of Malaysia to cut off the yearly lease payment for the 1878 agreement between the British North Borneo and the Sultanate of Sulu is uncalled for and has rekindled the revival of the long-dormant claim over Sabah.

Andanar said the yearly payment symbolized the goodwill of the Malaysian government that despite their occupation they recognized the proprietary right of the heirs of the Sultanate over the disputed territory.

“The lease payment of the British North Borneo company which was originally equivalent to 5,000 Mexican gold bullion was reduced to 5,000 Malaysian Ringgit when it was included in the Federation of Malaysia,” he said.

“The amount was too small. The Malaysian government should have even increased the lease payment to show goodwill,’’ he added.

The special envoy, however, said because of the cordial and good relationship between the two countries the Sabah issue must be discussed bilateral and may not go through arbitration with the international court.

He said just what China did in the case of the West Philippines Sea, Malaysia might not participate in the proceedings and will not recognize any ruling of the International tribunal.

The Special envoy expressed hope that political development in Sabah this year may pave the way for the possible discussions to seek a “win-win” compromise that benefits both the Philippines and Malaysia.

“If you go to Sabah you can feel the Filipino atmosphere, you meet and see Filipinos all over,” he said.

Andanar said at least one-fourth of the population in the Island estimated to one million are Tausugs.

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