Another tale of woes, yet hope is up over Sabah

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

The month-long standoff in Sabah between followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and the Malaysian security forces has turned into a critical humanitarian case, with reports of the latter applying excessive force, brutally treating Filipinos living there, and making it hard for assistance to reach them.

Acknowledging 57 of them had been killed, the Sultan’s followers are resolute to remain in Sabah, die there if necessary, because they assert it’s their homeland.

Is their situation hopeless? Is their claim on Sabah futile?

At least one widely-read columnist has consistently written “yes” on these questions. And he won’t abide the assertion of many that the P-Noy government must share responsibility for what’s happening in Sabah.

Now there’s another angle on the Sabah claim issue, to P-Noy’s probable chagrin.

Hermes Dorado, former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs national territory division, caused a stir last Tuesday by claiming that President Aquino’s parents — the martyr-hero Ninoy Aquino and former President Cory — had played significant roles in turning the Sabah claim into a “national tragedy”. 1. Before flying to Manila (where he was assassinated on the tarmac) on August 21, 1983, Ninoy had met with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir and promised to drop the Philippine claim over Sabah (filed with the International Court of Justice in 1963 by President Diosdado Macapagal) in exchange for Mahathir’s support in ousting the Marcos dictatorship.

2. After becoming president in 1986, “desperately need(ing) the support of the ASEAN for legitimizing her ‘People Power’ Revolution,” Cory gave in to Mahathir’s demand to amend Article I of the 1973 Constitution, by deleting the reference to Sabah as part of Philippine territory. She allegedly delegated the task to a senator and a member of the Constitutional Commission that she had created to draft a new charter.

These factors explain why, Dorado pointed out, the P-Noy government was reluctant to support the Sabah claim.

The former DFA official spoke at a forum on Sabah at UP Diliman. Philippine STAR reported on his speech, which has been downloaded in YouTube and circulated through the Internet.

Dorado admitted he had no personal knowledge, and no official record existed, of Ninoy’s meeting with Mahathir in Malaysia. He said he “became privy to this bit of intelligence” because then Ambassador to Thailand Rafael Ileto had shared it with him. (Ileto passed away in 2003).

On Cory’s alleged role, Dorado cited no source. Yet he wrote bitterly of “Malaysian hard-ball diplomatic and guerilla war maneuverings, backed up by shrewd use of economic leverage, sourced from huge revenues from oil extracted in Sabah…. They succeeded in forcing the Constitutional Commission to drop the Philippine Sabah Claim, hands down…”

I checked on the 1973 and 1987 Constitutions. Here’s each version of Article I, Section 1:

1973 — “The national territory comprises the Philippine Archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all the other territories belonging to the Philippines by historic or legal title, including the territorial sea, the air space, the subsoil, the sea-bed, the insular shelves, and the submarine areas over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction. The waters around, between, and connecting the islands of the archipelago, irrespective of their breadth and dimensions, form part of the internal waters of the Philippines.”

1987 — “The national territory comprises the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction, consisting of its terrestrial, fluvial, and aerial domains, including its territorial sea, the seabed, the subsoil, the insular shelves, and other submarine areas…”

Note: there is no explicit mention of Sabah in either version.

The effort to obliterate reference to Sabah did not end in the constitutional change, Dorado averred. The law passed in 1968 defining the baselines of the Philippine territorial sea (RA 5446), he claimed, was amended in 2009 by RA 9522 to exclude Sabah by deleting its Section 2.

Here’s Section 2 of RA 5446: “The definition of the baselines of the territorial sea of the Philippine Archipelago as provided in this Act is without prejudice to the delineation of the baselines of the territorial sea around the territory of Sabah, situated in North Borneo, over which the Republic of the Philippines has acquired dominion and sovereignty.”

RA 9522, Section 2 reads: “The baseline in the following areas over which the Philippines likewise exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction shall be determined as ‘Regimes of Islands’ under the Republic of the Philippines consistent with Article 121 of the (UNCLOS): a) the Kalayaan Island Group… and b) Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.”

But Dorado erred in concluding that RA 9522 deleted reference to Sabah.

The Supreme Court, ruling on July 16, 2011 on a petition to declare RA 9522 unconstitutional, found no basis to do so. Corollarily, it also ruled that RA 9522 did not repeal Section 2 of RA 5446, thus keeping open the door for drawing the baselines on Sabah.

In effect, the high court says the Philippine claim over Sabah is still there, and may be pursued in the future.

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March 16, 2013

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