KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Wednesday (Jan 31) rejected a proposal by a member of a Filipino government committee to amend the Philippine Constitution to include Sabah as the "13th federal state" of the Philippines.
“Malaysia is aware of remarks made by Mr Aquilino Pimentel Jr, a member of the Philippines’ Consultative Committee, which appeared in the media on the claim on Sabah recently,” said Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman in a press statement.
“The Government of Malaysia reiterates its position that Malaysia does not recognise and will not entertain any claims by any party on Sabah. Sabah is recognised by the United Nations and the international community as part of Malaysia since the formation of the Federation on 16 September 1963,” said Anifah.
“Therefore, statements such as these will only expose the ignorance of history and international law of those who make them, as well as potentially harming the excellent bilateral relations which Malaysia and the Philippines currently enjoy,” Anifah added.
Aquilino Pimentel Jr is a member of a 25-member government consultative committee tasked with reviewing and proposing amendments to the Philippines 1987 Constitution. A key proposal is switching to a system of federal government from its current model where power is centralised.
"There should be a way that is acceptable under international laws to assert our claim to Sabah," Pimentel, a former senator, told local ABS-CBN News network in an interview on Tuesday.
Pimentel's proposal for the new federal government includes 12 federal states - Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Minparom, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao, Bangsamoro, Metro Manila.
He reportedly said the government can add Sabah as the 13th federal state later on.
In 2013, some 200 men from the southern Philippines landed in Sabah and battled Malaysian security forces for more than a month in a bid to stake an ancient claim of the territory for the Sultanate of Sulu.
Scores died in the fighting. At least two Malaysian police officers were beheaded by the invaders.
Sabah on Borneo island joined Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore to form Malaysia in 1963.
SABAH CLAIM EXPECTED TO RESONATE WITH SOME COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Law professor and executive director of Philippines’ Institute for Autonomy & Governance Benedicto Bacani told Channel NewsAsia that Pimentel’s proposal will resonate with some committee members who come from the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
“Pimentel’s claim is a strong voice which will resonate with some other committee members, especially those from MNLF.
“With MNLF active in the move to shift to federalism, Sabah is back on the radar screen,” said Bacani.
Some ex-MNLF members had taken part in the 2013 invasion and the group’s leader, Nur Misuari, has always been a strong advocate of "reclaiming" Sabah.
Asked whether such voices will lead to claims by the Philippines’ government for Sabah, Bacani said: "I don't think so."