By DR ASRI SALLEH
COMMENT: Make no mistake, the Philippines has never officially dropped its claim on Sabah. For one thing, the Philippines’ claim on Sabah is as old as the Federation of Malaysia itself.
Since President Marcos of the Philippines signed the Senate Bill 954 into law on 18 September 1968, time and again, the claim has survived calls for it to be officially revoked, rescinded and withdrawn (Tregonning, 1970).
Unfortunately, none of the six presidents of the post-Marcos era, including Mr Duterte, has had the courage to respond in favor of the calls. Presumably, one could say that dropping the claim is a political taboo for them. That it could be the final nail of the coffin to their presidency campaign.
Additionally, on diplomatic fronts, both Malaysia and the Philippines always try to avoid from bringing up the claim in their bilateral meetings or those of ASEAN, knowing full well that such will only escalate into something both will certainly be uncomfortable with.
The validity and reliability of the claim notwithstanding, its consequences beyond the diplomatic frontier are there for all to see as the 2013 Tanduo Stand-off would affirm to, among other things. As such, for a number of reasons, it is high time for the Philippines to officially drop it.
Besides, as Tregonning reiterates, it would be highly ‘farcical’ if Malaysia were to entertain such a claim with the Philippines are aware that Malaysia would surely retaliate with impunity against any attempts to violate its territorial integrity.
The Philippines, Tregonning adds, is better off embracing the reality of the boundaries of the modern world today – as per the recognition of the United Nations (UN). Returning Sabah to the Philippines, Tregonning reckons, is like returning Kedah to Thailand or Singapore to Johor, Malaysia.
The fact that the Philippines itself was part of the parties, other than Indonesia, requesting the UN to investigate whether Sabah would want to join Malaysia was in itself a testament that Sabah at that particular time was not part of the Philippines, or Indonesia for that matter.
Otherwise, why would the Philippines inquire the status of a territory which it considered as part of it in the first place?
It should really learn from the end of Indonesia’s covert military operation against the formation Malaysia or Konfrontasi in 1966. When even an armed recourse failed miserably, what more such a claim could possibly do?
Therefore, with the Philippines remaining unfazed by Malaysia’s objections, it leaves the latter with no option but to fortify its fortress in its borders, as exemplified by ESSZONE. The Philippines knows, as in the word Tregonning, that it does not stand a chance.
Whatever it is, the Philippines just does not have the locus standi to pursue its claim over Sabah and with that, not even the slightest of chance of realizing it. It is like Malaysia claiming ownership of the moon.
Moon or not, the Philippines is adamant that it is not dropping the claim, not in the foreseeable future. At least, one can fathom that such persistence would have meant something to the general masses.
May be some people believe they could use the claim to help them win the next presidential election. Back home, the Tanduo invasion has taught Malaysians that they have traitors in their midst. As a sovereign country, Malaysia must act like one, and in doing so, no stones should be left unturned.
Still, the Malaysia must be equally concerned of the potential damage of such a preposterous claim can do, from within and without. As the Malays of old once say, ‘the snake in the bush is far more dangerous than a lion in the open’, due diligence is advised.
• Dr. Asri Salleh is a Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Administrative Science and Policy Studies, UiTM Sabah and Fellow, Society Empowerment & Economic Development of Sabah (SEEDS)
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