Thursday, 20 February 2014

Sabah issue not Aquino’s agenda in Malaysia visit

Aquino18KOTA KINABALU: The Philippines’ highly sensitive Sabah territorial issue will not be taken up by President Benigno Aquino when he meets with Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak during his two-day state visit to Malaysia.
“Sabah was not part of the agenda,” Aquino told reporters yesterday during the inspection of Estero de San Miguel Micro Medium-Rise Building model unit for the displaced informal settler families in Sampaloc, Manila, The Philippine Star reported Wednesday.
Sabah is an island strip that Manila previously claimed as its own, but is disputed by Malaysia.
The late Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and his followers have claimed ownership but until now, the government is still weighing its options.
In October 2013 Aquino refused to divulge details, however, on what the government plans with regard to the “four options” he mentioned, where the only plausible avenue is for Kuala Lumpur’s compensation to Manila to be raised significantly.
The Malaysian government pays Manila an annual rental fee of at most P75,000 for the 30,000-square mile Sabah property, according to spokesman Abraham Idjirani of the Sulu Sultanate.
Aquino told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines that talking about Sabah would only expose the “weaknesses and strengths” of the Philippine government’s position at a time when the country may considerably be negotiating with the other party.
“If I’m going to give a blueprint of how we want to handle this then that would produce a disadvantage for the country,” he said.
Aquino said he is optimistic the Sabah claim will be filed within his term provided “the study says that we have a strong case.”
Aquino also revealed there will be bilateral meetings between officials of the two Asian countries, and this will include peace, trade and commerce, among other issues.
He also expressed gratitude to Malaysia for helping facilitate the country’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), where a Bangsamoro Basic Law is now being drafted and will eventually be submitted to Congress for legislation.
Aquino’s state visit to Malaysia is upon the invitation of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Najib was in Manila in October 2012 to witness the signing of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF.
A Palace insider said Aquino’s state visit to Malaysia is preferred by both sides before Najib is again invited to Manila, this time possibly for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the MILF in March.
Malaysia serves as facilitator of the peace negotiations.
The government said the standoff in Lahad Datu, Sabah last year did not affect relations between the two countries as well as Kuala Lumpur’s commitment to help in the peace talks.
A group that called itself the Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo was sent by Kiram to Lahad Datu to assert the unresolved territorial claim of the Philippines on Eastern Sabah (formerly North Borneo).
Kiram and his followers claimed they were being excluded from the government’s peace and development plan in Mindanao

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