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  • Writer's pictureMelo Acuna

Pursuit of Sabah claim discussed at Wednesday Roundtable

Sabah issue could have been settled sooner; former DFA official calls for open discussion

MANILA – The continuing saga of the Sultanate of Sulu may take some time because the current administration is saddled with so many concerns from the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and public safety.

Speaking at the Wednesday Roundtable @ Lido, retired Foreign Service Officer and Ambassador Alberto Encomienda said there was an opportunity during President Corazon C. Aquino’s tenure but the issue took a backseat as the Philippines was hosting a top-level ASEAN leaders conference in Manila.

“The Philippines’ hosting could not have been successful without the presence of Prime Minister Mohammad Mahathir and so the leadership opted not to include issues relating to Sabah in the agenda,” the former diplomat said.

He added another venue could have been the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) which then President Fidel V. Ramos discussed thoroughly with Prime Minister Mahathir in Kuala Lumpur during the former’s state visit. Ambassador Encomienda served Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia, Singapore and Greece.

Security expert Prof. Rommel Banlaoi said both the Philippines and Malaysia should work together to address security concerns which remain a priority of both countries. He said it is common knowledge that Tausugs and Filipinos from other regions form at least 40% of the population in Sabah.

Meanwhile, Engr. Abraham Ijirani, secretary general of the Sultanate of Sulu said they remain hopeful the national leadership will support their quest for and on behalf of the descendants of the Sultan of Sulu.

He said it is a ticklish issue because there are reports that some residents in Sabah are seeking some form of autonomy from the Federal government because despite the natural resources in the region and in nearby Sarawak, the government’s promise during the early 60s that income derived from its natural resources will be plowed back to the region.

“However, the area has remained poor giving prominence to the autonomy movement,” Engr. Ijirani said.

Speaking of the Sabah claim, former Ambassador Encomienda said there were documents destroyed by two fires at the old Department of Foreign Affairs building along Padre Faura.

“If the Sultanate of Sulu, represented by Engr. Ijirani, could share important documents with the government, then the claim could prosper,” he said. He added should the government believe in the Sultanate of Sulu’s cause, feelers could be sent to their Malaysian counterparts and not just posting on social media because it will not accomplish anything.

Ambassador Encomienda said the issue should be thoroughly discussed in the media as well as in the coming campaign season for the Senate, House of Representatives as well as the Offices of the Vice President and the President.

Engr. Ijirani said they are willing to help the national government with whatever documents they have in their possession. (Melo M. Acuña)

Former Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Alberto Encomienda (left) and Engr. Abraham Ijirani, Secretary-General of the Sultanate of Sulu speaking at Wednesday Roundtable @ Lido. Not in photo is Security Analyst Prof. Rommel Banlaoi. (Melo M. Acuna)

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