MANILA: A new twist has developed when the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) revived an order issued in 2008 to remind government departments and officials not to refer to Sabah as part of Malaysia.
Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesman, pointed out the order was contained in a memorandum circular issued on Aug.20, 2008 which was authorized by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The DFA reminder came in the wake of the violent and bloody standoff arising from the incursion into Sabah by about 200 followers of Jamalul Kiram 3rd, the self-proclaimed sultan of Sulu, who claims the island state as part of his sultanate.
Hernandez explained the circular was issued to provide guidelines on activities or statements regarding Sabah where the Philippines has maintained its historical and legal rights.
As far as the DFA is concerned, Hernandez said, “the existing circular has not been amended or changed yet.”
He cited a provision in the circular which states: “No department, agency or instrumentality of the Philippine government shall make any act or statement implying directly or indirectly any recognition of a foreign state’s sovereignty over North Borneo (Sabah) or non-recognition of Philippine title or historical and legal rights to the same.”
Another provision in the circular, Hernandez pointed out, states that “reference to North Borneo (Sabah) in official documents should not include its being part of a larger national/federal territory.”
On Friday, Secretary Leila de Lima of the Department of Justice told reporters in a separate interview that she already submitted to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino a voluminous report on the Philippine claim to Sabah.
De Lima who was asked by Aquino to do an exhaustive study and review of the issue, however, refused to divulge significant details of her report, beyond saying it tackled the strengths and weaknesses of the Philippine claim.
“I tried to come up with a comprehensive study considering the historical and legal perspectives on the issue,” De Lima said.
“These aim,” De Lima added, “to answer questions of will we have a strong case if we pursue this before an appropriate tribunal and what are the options in light of the current situation.”