Locsin likened Philippines’ Sabah claim to sovereignty over West Philippine Sea

July 30, 2020 - 5:22 PM
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Sabah, Sulu Sea, South China Sea
Photo from the Sabah Tourism Board shows looking at the maritime border of the Sulu Sea and the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. stood by his remark on the Philippines’ claim over Sabah which he even compared to the country’s territorial row with China.

In two succeeding retweets last Monday, July 27, Locsin asserted that Sabah is part of the Philippines, not Malaysia.

A US Embassy tweet was a report about the donations the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided to Filipino repatriates from Sabah who arrived in Zamboanga City and Tawi-Tawi. In that tweet, the US Embassy mentions Sabah, Malaysia, to which Locsin objected.

“Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines,” Locsin said.

“You better edit that announcement if you know what’s good for you,” he said in another retweet.

These remarks eventually reached Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and prompted him to summon Locsin via a Twitter statement on July 29.

“This is an irresponsible statement that affects bilateral ties,” Hussein said.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malaysia will summon the Philippines Ambassador on Monday to explain. Sabah is, and will always be, part of Malaysia,” he added.

It did not end here, though. In another round of retweets on Thursday, July 30, Locsin further stressed his right to express his Sabah claim on his official public Twitter account.

He then compared this situation with that of China’s stakes over disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea despite the differences in circumstances.

“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,” Locsin said.

“It is free to say what it wants while we say and do what needs doing. That holds for Sabah,” he added.

This time, Locsin reacted to a tweet by JV Ejercito who agreed with Locsin’s political view.

“I support Sec. Locsin on his statement regarding Sabah. It may anger The Malaysians but Sabah historically belongs rightfully to the Philippines!” Ejercito said.

Locsin also quote-retweeted his previous statement and added that he would summon the Malaysian ambassador to the Philippines, who is currently Charles Jose,the agency’s former spokesperson.

Despite being a high-ranking official, the top diplomat had a record of crass and undiplomatic remarks against the government’s critics and those who argue with him on Twitter.

Last March, Locsin was locked out of his account after his tweet on shooting communists.

On the West Philippine Sea and Sabah

The main difference is that the Philippines no longer has legal jurisdiction over Sabah whereas the country has sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea due to the landmark arbitration ruling in 2016 at the Hague.

Such a decision invalidated China’s historical nine-dash line over nearly the entire South China Sea as baseless.

Meanwhile, Sabah, which is located in the northern part of Borneo, had been considered part of Malaysia after the state was included as among the founding states of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

Late dictator Ferdinand Marcos tried to take Sabah by force, which led to the deaths of Muslim operatives called the Jabidah Massacre in 1968.

In 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte said that he would continue to pursue the country’s claim on Sabah.

There were no reported moves about the matter until the visit of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to the Philippines in March 2019.

Mohamad blatantly denied that the Philippines has a claim over Sabah. Then presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, countered this and noted that Duterte’s position remained the same.