Will the Aquino administration step in and help the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo retake Sabah from Malaysia?
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima does not know the answer.
She said Monday that the government would know what action to take only after the completion of a comprehensive legal study on the ownership of Sabah.
De Lima said when President Aquino ordered the Department of Justice, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President itself to look into the claim of the Sulu sultanate to Sabah, there was “no indication” at all of what his administration intended to do with the ownership question.
“What the President wants is to look at the merit or the validity of the Sabah claim before he makes any decision or before this government makes any policy direction with respect to that issue,” De Lima told reporters.
The study, however, has been prompted by a standoff between Malaysian security forces and a group of armed followers of the sultan of Sulu who entered Sabah on Feb. 9 and refused to leave, insisting Sabah was their ancestral land.
De Lima, who was tasked by the President to look into the legal aspect of the sultanate’s claim, said she would try to finish her part of the study this week.
She said no administration after that of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos had taken a “definitive” stand on the controversy, apparently referring to the 1968 Jabidah massacre on Corregidor Island.
The killing of military recruits by their military trainers there exposed the top-secret plan “Operation Merdeka,” hatched by the Marcos regime to invade Sabah.
Merits of the case
“I think every administration endeavors to make a study but the administrations after Marcos [did not take] any definitive position,” she said, adding that was the reason the President wanted “to be enlightened on the merits of the claim.”
Asked whether reports of division within the family of the sultan of Sulu would affect the claim to Sabah, De Lima declined to comment, saying the government wanted to be “silent” on the issues involving the standoff in Sabah between the men of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Malaysian security forces.
What is clear, she said, is that the government “did not sanction” Jamalul’s actions.
The government is trying to help solve the standoff peacefully only because Filipinos are involved, De Lima said.
“But we want it to be as low-key as possible,” she added, referring to actions being taken by the government to end the standoff without bloodshed.
Meanwhile, De Lima said she had again postponed the departure of a four-member team of state prosecutors and lawyers to Kuala Lumpur to press for the extradition of alleged con man Manuel Amalilio to the Philippines.
The group was supposed to leave this week, but De Lima said the Malaysian attorney general would not be available until March 4.
De Lima said earlier that the standoff in Sabah did not appear to be affecting the government’s bid to bring Amalilio back to the Philippines with the help of Malaysia so he could face criminal charges for duping 15,000 people in Mindanao and the Visayas of P12 billion through a Ponzi scheme that collapsed last year.