By Daniel Llanto

The Philippines’ top diplomat rejected claims that Sabah is now part of Malaysia as the Malaysian foreign ministry announced that Kuala Lumpur stopped paying cession money to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu to indicate that Sabah is now its full-fledged territory.

Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. on July 27 slammed a photo caption issued by the US Embassy in Manila that designates Sabah as part of Malaysia, negating the Philippine’s historical claim to Sabah.

In a series of tweets, Locsin berated the US embassy for saying that Sabah is in Malaysia, citing the Philippines’ claim to the territory.

“Sabah is not in Malaysia if you (need) to have anything to do with the Philippines,” Locsin said, reacting to a post from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Manila’s distribution of hygiene kits to Filipinos repatriated from Sabah.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein earlier claimed his country stopped paying cession money to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu.  He said Malaysia also did not recognize and entertain any claim by any party over Sabah, which has been recognized as part of Malaysia by the United Nations.

“Malaysia and the Philippines have an understanding that the claim over Sabah will not be raised at any regional or international platform,” Hussein said. Malaysia stopped paying annual cession money of RM5,300 through lawyers representing the nine heirs of the Sulu Sultanate since 2013.

He said the payments were made based on a treaty signed on January 22, 1878, between the then sultan of Sulu, Sultan Jamal Al Alam, and Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent of the British North Borneo Co.

“Apart from the payments to the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate, Malaysia has never made any payment to the Philippine government,” Hishammuddin said in a written reply to Chang Foon Hin (PH-Kota Kinabalu), uploaded on the Parliament website, according to a report by Bernama newspaper.

It said Chang wanted to know if the Malaysian government planned to stop paying the cession money to the Sulu Sultanate through the Philippine government as a measure to end foreign interference in Malaysia’s sovereignty.

“Until now, the claim on Sabah has only been raised by those who claim to be descendants of the Sulu Sultanate,” he said.

In February 2013, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III sent 200 armed followers led by his younger brother Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, 74, to Sabah in an effort to assert the Philippine claim over the territory.

Malaysia branded the action as an invasion and launched a deadly air and land assault against the invaders, armed with automatic rifles and machetes. Kuala Lumpur also put Sultan Jamalul and his brother on its wanted list and branded them as terrorists.

The Sultanate of Sulu continues to lay claim to Sabah. It obtained Sabah from Brunei as a gift for helping put down a rebellion on Borneo Island. The British leased Sabah and transferred control over the territory to Malaysia after the end of World War 2.

The Sulu Sultanate said it had merely leased North Borneo in 1878 to the British North Borneo Co. for an annual payment of 5,000 Malayan dollars, which was increased to 5,300 Malayan dollars in 1903.

President Duterte has been quoted as saying that he would never abandon the Sulu Sultanate’s quest to stake its claim on Sabah. “We are allowing proprietary heirs to talk with Malaysia. Since it is part of our claim, it will be there as our land,” Duterte said.

“What has been the policy will always be the policy of the government especially those for the interest of the country. We have to stake our claim,” Duterte said.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the Philippines had not abandoned its claim on Sabah, rejecting statements that “there was no claim” to the disputed territory.