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DFA to govt agencies: Do not refer to Sabah as part of Malaysia

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday reminded all government agencies not to refer to Sabah as being part of Malaysia due to an existing Philippine claim over the resource-rich territory now controlled by the Malaysian government. Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said Memorandum Circular 162 issued in 2008 by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is an “existing regulation” and must be complied with by "all government departments, agencies and instrumentalities." “It is an existing circular which has not been amended or changed yet,” Hernandez told a press briefing. Earlier in the day, the same was mentioned by lawyer Roy Ecraela of the DFA's Office of Special Concerns during an inter-agency meeting at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Sabah, located south of Mindanao, is territorially disputed by the Philippines and Malaysia. A Philippine claim for sovereignty over Sabah has lain dormant for decades, but Malaysia continues to pay a yearly rent to the heirs of the sultan of Sulu, who claim to be the descendants of the original Filipino sultan who had been ceded ownership of the territory for several centuries. On February 12, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III sent his followers to Sabah to reclaim their homeland, which prompted a bloody crackdown by Malaysia. Kiram said he deployed his men to Sabah after efforts to extract a higher rent from Malaysia were relegated to the backburner by the Philippine government. The sultan said his forebears leased Sabah to a British company in the 1870’s but was illegally annexed by Great Britain, which then handed over the territory to Malaysia when it gained independence from the British Crown in 1963. Hernandez said the presidential directive discourages government agencies “from referring to Sabah, home to 800,000 Filipinos, as being part of a larger national or federal territory” and for them not “to make any act or statement expressing or implying any recognition of a foreign state’s sovereignty over Sabah.” “This is because of the existing claim that we have in that area,” Hernandez said. “It is important that we follow these guidelines of 2008 so that we have a consistent position regarding this issue.” Hernandez's statement came a day after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she had submitted the results of a legal study on the country's claim to Sabah to President Benigno Aquino III, who said he has yet to read it. De Lima has refused to discuss the contents of the report. — KBK/HS, GMA News