The Bangkok Talks – Philippines’ claim to Sabah

Talk by DAP Organising Secretary, Mr Lim Kit Siang, to the Slim River DAP Branch on Saturday, June 29 at 5 p.m.

The current Bangkok talks on the Philippines claim to Sabah has become an international farce and scandal. It shows up the insincerity of the Philippines Government in really working towards harmonious relations and goodwill among South East Asian nations.

The fine sentiments expressed by President Marcos of the Philippines when he visited Malaysia only five months ago have turned to ashes.

The first words President Ferdinand E. Marcos said when he arrived in Kuala Lumpur were:

“I come to your country – to Malaysia – with a particular quest – to discover how Malaysians and Filipinos may come closer together, may be able to build together the high road to peace and prosperity not only for our two countries, but for all our neighbours and those others in our part of the world who share our values, our hopes, our vision of the future.”

When he was conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws of the University of Malaya during his visit, President Marcos said:

“There were historical cleavages between us; among the countries of this region, cultural, political and religious differences bred mutual suspicions and even hostility. But as we grew in self-confidence, and as we began to know each other, these walls crumbled. Today, we are building bridges in their place …… We aim at nothing less than the creation of a new man, the Southeast Asian, who shall make this region a new giant in the world of man.

Apparently, President Marcos must have failed in his quest, or the farce and comedy at the Bangkok talks would never have occurred.

By pouncing on every minor point to protract, delay and prolong the talks, like the telephone breakdowns, tape-recorder incident, charges that Malaysian delegates are “wining, dining and womanising” foreign correspondents, accusations and counter-accusations, the Philippines delegation is not “building bridges” for closer Malaysian-Philippines relationship, but widening “cleavages.”

A new South East Asian man, which President Marcos visualised at the University of Malaya, looks into the future and seek out new areas of co-operative and creative human endeavour. He does not hark back to 1877, to quibble over an agreement on flimsy grounds, and covet a neighbour’s territory.

The Philippines Government does not have a shred of a valid claim to Sabah. It has not produced any evidence to prove that the Sultan of Sulu had leased, and not ceded his territory “forever and in perpetuity”.

The Philippines claim to Sabah was lodged in 1962 by former President Macapagal purely to shore up his declining popularity at home. He calculated that by starting a foreign adventure, he would be able to prove that he had an independent Filipino foreign policy, and not merely an echo of the American policy.

These motivations led to Philippines siding the aggressor during the Indonesian Confrontation, and the break in diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Philippines.

It is unfortunate that the Philippines government under President Marcos had not been able to break away completely from the Macapagal policy, which had done so much to strain relationship between the two countries.

As long as the Philippines continue to covet Sabah, South East Asian regionalism will be no more than empty professions.

One of basic prerequisites for successful South-East Asian regional co-operation and endeavour, whether it be ASEAN or any other form, is mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Philippines has violated this fundemental condition by laying claim to Sabah, thus putting the clock back for regional forces.

The ill-will, bad temper, charges and counter-charges at the Bangkok Talks, for instance, are not the “high road” to South-East Asian understanding, peace and prosperity. They are in fact the “low road” to South-East Asian misunderstanding, friction and tension.

The Philippines’ claim to Sabah has become the thorn in the South-East Asian flesh. Unless the Philippines quickly pluck out the thorn, ASEAN and all other tentative efforts at South East Asian regionalism will flounder and be disrupted.

We call on President Marcos to set the example and become the “South East Asian Man” which he visualised at the University of Malaya Convocation Ceremony. He should rise above petty national political considerations, and abandon once and for all Philippines’ claim to Sabah, so that energies and efforts of all peoples and countries in this region could be directed towards building a stable, peaceful and prosperous South East Asia.

Audited on 2021-03-19.