PH summons Malaysian envoy over foreign minister's remarks on Locsin, Sabah

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said on Thursday, July 30, that the Philippine government will summon the Malaysian ambassador to the country after their foreign minister criticized his statement on the Sabah issue. 

Locsin made the announcement in a tweet on Thursday morning, July 30, a day after Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein called his remarks on the Sabah issue as "irresponsible" and damaging to bilateral relations with Malaysia.

In an onslaught of posts, Locsin drew parallels between the Philippines’ territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea and Sabah as he asserted that each country was entitled to make its claim of ownership. 

“No country can tell another what it can and cannot say about what the latter regards as rightfully its own. I don't insist China say only what we want to hear about the Arbitral Award. It is free to say what it wants while we say and do what needs doing. That holds for Sabah,” Locsin said.

“I am summoning the Malaysian ambassador,” he tweeted. 

Sabah in the spotlight

The unfolding issue between the Philippines and Malaysia brings to light Sabah, a territory claimed by the Philippines but occupied by Malaysia. 

Hussein on Wednesday night said Malaysia would summon Philippine Ambassador Charles Jose over Locsin’s earlier tweet that “Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines.” 

Locsin had made the remark in relation to another tweet posted by the United States Embassy in the Philippines that showcased the United States Agency for International Development’s donation to Filipino repatriates from “Sabah, Malaysia” 

The Sabah issue had been quiet for years with the last public statement made in January 2018, when Malaysia slammed the proposal to make Sabah the Philippines' 13th federal state under a new Philippine Constitution. 

Battle of tweets

In a series of tweets on Thursday morning, Locsin brought up Malaysia’s supposed attempt to “derail” the Philippines’ historic case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. 

He said the Malaysian government had already summoned Jose.

“You summoned our ambassador for a historically factual statement I made: that Malaysia tried to derail the Arbitral Award. This was reported to us by our diplomats on the scene and our German lawyer,” Locsin said. 

“None may share our Hague victory who worked against it,” he added. 

The foreign affairs chief likewise rejected claims that he did not protect the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea. 

“We have and continue to assert our rights in the Spratlys/WPS. I am doing that with regard to Sabah. There have been repeated attempts to sell that claim but no Philippine president has succumbed,” he said.

Locsin was referring to a Twitter user who claimed the Philippine official did not offer the same action over the West Philippine Sea.

Locsin has issued protests and statements against China’s aggressive behavior in Philippine waters, with one of his strongest remarks made on the 4th anniversary of the 2016 Hague ruling. On that occasion, Locsin called on Beijing to comply with the ruling – a “non-negotiable” for the Philippines. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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