PH, Malaysia to set up security hotline
MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – They discussed the Sabah issue after all.
Although the Philippines' dormant claim to Sabah was not part of the original agenda, President Benigno Aquino III discussed it with Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak during his first-ever state visit to Malaysia Friday, February 28.
It was Najib himself who brought up Sabah in the discussion when he followed up the possibility of setting up a Philippine consulate in Sabah's capital, Kota Kinabalu.
The talk did not revolve around any future assertion of claims, as the visit came while the Philippines is in the midst of encouraging its neighbors, including Malaysia, to join its case against China. Aquino, however, said the country's arbitration case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea on the disputed South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) was not discussed during the meeting.
Instead, Aquino signified the Philippines' intention to "come up to a consensus" on the issue. He also discussed with the prime minister the possibility of setting up a security hotline, a year after the bloody Sabah crisis.
"This is part of the effort to understand exactly what has transpired. Then we told our Malaysian counterparts, first of all, we’re not after conflict with anybody. But we want to be able to tell our people the real score, and in that sense, come up to a consensus based on that which is right," Aquino told reporters.
The government is still awaiting the final draft of a study on the Sabah issue being led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
Address criminality, banditry
During Aquino's state visit, the leaders agreed to establish a security hotline between the two nations to "address criminality and banditry," especially along porous borders in southern Philippines and eastern Malaysia.
"In effect, the Abu Sayyaf – amongst other groups – is a problem common to both of us. And it behooves us...to have greater coordination to first prevent and forestall and, in fact, hopefully deter anymore activities such as this," Aquno said.
A mechanism on how each country may contact each other in case of security issues – such as the year 2000 incident when the Abu Sayyaf abducted 21 tourists in Sipadan – will be established.
Aquino's visit to Malaysia comes a year after the followers of the Sultanate of Sulu trooped to Sabah to assert their claim on the island. A number of Filipinos are now facing terrorism-related charges over the botched claim.
Consulate in Kota Kinabalu soon?
During the meeting, Malaysia also followed up on its earlier request for the Philippines to set up a consulate in Kota Kinabalu.
At present, the Philippines only has an embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital.
Aquino said the DFA is still re-examining whether the Kota Kinabalu territory is part of areas in Sabah being claimed by the Sultanate of Sulu. The exact coordinates of the Sabah territory in question is still being verified by historians, Aquino added.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to grace the signing of the final peace agreement between the government and rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) by the end of March. Malaysia served as the third-party facilitator in the 16-year negotiations. – Angela Casauay/Rappler.com