DFA: Sabah not at issue in Note Verbale to KL on South China Sea

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In this photo taken Feb. 25, 2014 by surveillance planes and released Thursday, May 15, 2014, by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, a Chinese vessel, top center, is used to expand structures and land on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, at the Spratly Islands at South China Sea, Philippines. The Philippines has protested China's reclamation of land in the disputed reef in the South China Sea that can be used to build an airstrip or an offshore military base in the increasingly volatile region, the country's top diplomat and other officials said Wednesday, May 14, 2014. The white arrow was added by the source. (MNS photo)

In this photo taken Feb. 25, 2014 by surveillance planes and released Thursday, May 15, 2014, by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, a Chinese vessel, top center, is used to expand structures and land on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, at the Spratly Islands at South China Sea, Philippines. The Philippines has protested China’s reclamation of land in the disputed reef in the South China Sea that can be used to build an airstrip or an offshore military base in the increasingly volatile region, the country’s top diplomat and other officials said Wednesday, May 14, 2014. The white arrow was added by the source. (MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) — The recent note verbale from the Philippines to Malaysia on the issue of the extended continental shelf (ECS) in the South China Sea is part of the two neighbors’ “friendly bilateral relations” and does not in any way include the Sabah issue, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday.

The DFA comment was sought on a story that the note verbale, transmitted to visiting Malaysian Defense Minister Dato Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, amounted to a quid pro quo — Manila backpedals on its Sabah claim if Kuala Lumpur manifests before a UN body an ECS definition favoring the former’s Spratlys case against China.

DFA spokesman Charles Jose’s statement was shared with reporters by Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

“The Philippines has excellent relations with Malaysia in the context of our friendly bilateral relations. Our two countries have been for years exchanging ways on how to address the issue of the extended continental shelf (ECS) in the South China Sea.”

The DFA added, “The Note Verbale that was written about was part of this process. The Note is about the features in the South China Sea and their implications on ECS claims.”

It stressed that “Sabah is not in any way part of the Note.”

While the Note Verbale (reprinted in InterAksyon.com, accompanying a VERA Files story) indeed made no mention of Sabah, it alluded to a 2009 complaint filed by Manila against a joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam before a UN body.

The Philippines had said then that such joint submission would impact its standing claim on Sabah – a resource-rich territory leased by British overlords from the Sultanate of Sulu, but which Britain later simply handed over to Malaysia.

According to the VERA Files story, the note verbale referred to the May 6, 2009 joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in which Malaysia claimed an extended continental shelf (350 nautical miles from baseline) that was clearly projected from Sabah.

The Philippines, in an August 4, 2009 note to the UN Secretary General, protested the joint submission because it effectively declared Sabah to be a Malaysian territory.

The Philippines claims ownership of Sabah, which is at present occupied by Malaysia, based on the title of the Sultan of Sulu who ceded proprietary rights over the 76,115-square-kilometer land to the Philippines in 1962.

PH ‘reviewing’ 2009 protest vs. KL
In last week’s note verbale, however, the DFA informed the Malaysian government that it is “reviewing” its 2009 protest – something that an expert said could weaken Manila’s claim on Sabah.

The Note Verbale said the Philippines’ action as its reviews the 2009 complaint would depend on Malaysia’s response to Manila’s two requests related to the South China Sea conflicting territorial claims:
The first request is for Malaysia to “confirm” that its claim of an extended continental shelf is “entirely from the mainland coast of Malaysia, and not from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands.”
The DFA also requested Malaysia to confirm that it “does not claim entitlement to maritime areas beyond 12 nautical miles from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands it claims.”

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a state is entitled to 12-nautical-mile territorial sea over which it exercises sovereignty.

Malaysia, like the Philippines, claims parts of the Spratly islands in the South China Sea which is being claimed almost wholly by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. Brunei is another claimant to some parts of the Spratlys.

There are some parts in the Spratlys where the 200 NM Exclusive Economic Zones of the Philippines and Malaysia overlap. (MNS)

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