WHERE SUCCESS LIES: AQUINO RETURNS FROM KL W/ LOADS OF INVESTMENTS COMMITMENTS

President Benigno S. Aquino III flew back to Manila yesterday after a two-day state visit in Malaysia with loads of commitments from Malaysian companies to consider investments in the Philippines. Before leaving for Manila Friday night, President Aquino told Malaysian businessmen that “the Philippines is where your next success lies” while urging them to join the country’s journey to progress or regret missed opportunities. “Those who have already bet on our people, and reaped the gains of their investments, can attest to this – companies like the Maybank, Resorts World, and AlloyMTD. I am hopeful that, after today, we will be able to add to this roster – that many of you will join us in realizing the vast potential of our peoples and the entire region,” he said. During his two-day state visit, President Aquino was assured by three Malaysian companies of their expansion plans in the Philippines, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

ALSO: Malaysia seeks hotline with Phl on Sabah

Malaysia wants to establish a “hotline” between its security forces and that of the Philippines to prevent a repeat of the standoff in Lahad Datu, Sabah last year between over 200 Filipino militants and Malaysian troops. The Filipino militants, who called themselves the royal security forces of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, went to Lahad Datu to assert the Philippines’ territorial claim to eastern Sabah. Scores of people were hurt when Malaysian authorities cracked down on undocumented aliens following the standoff. While President Aquino did not want to raise the Philippines’ claim to Sabah during his two-day state visit to Kuala Lumpur last week, Prime Minister Abdul Najib Razak brought up the topic in a meeting at the latter’s office in Putrajaya Friday. “We are looking at the possibility of establishing a hotline between our security forces in the event of any incident,” Najib told Filipino and Malaysian journalists Friday. “We need to ensure immediate interdiction on our Malaysian side as well as the Philippine side, so that is a very important facet.” Najib said police and security officials from both countries should exchange information to enhance security matters. He said once there is peace and security, trade and investment will flow in southern Philippines as well as in Sabah.

ALSO: Did we sell out to Malaysia?

As an unexplained blackout cast the whole of Mindanao in total darkness last week, President B. S. Aquino III flew to Malaysia on a state visit, casting even greater darkness upon the fate of our long-standing claim to Sabah. The visit----Aquino’s first, and the first state visit by a Philippine president to Malaysia in 13 years---was hyped as most important to both countries. But we may have lost much more than what we have gained. Although Aquino had no difficulty asking Prime Minister Najib Razak to consider increased trade, lend Malaysia’s expertise in Islamic banking, and support the Philippine bid to get the United Nations to arbitrate its dispute with China in the West Philippine/South China Sea, the President, by deliberate omission, failed to say anything about the Philippine claim to Sabah, the most important outstanding issue between Malaysia and the Philippines. It seemed completely absurd for Aquino to be asking Razak to help him push a “UN approach” to our West Philippine/South China Sea dispute with China, while completely avoiding any reference to the completely analogous situation on Sabah between Manila and Kuala Lumpur. In both instances, the Philippines wants the International Court of Justice to settle the dispute. But neither Malaysia nor China would hear of it. Now, Aquino has decided to submit the dispute with China for UN arbitration. This is not the same as taking it to the World Court, but it would still involve a UN process, which is opposed by Beijing. Did Aquino really think Kuala Lumpur could support us in asking China to accept a UN process, without having to contradict its own objections to our wanting the World Court to adjudicate our Sabah claim?

ALSO: Peace deal signed in March, Aquino asks Malaysian PM Najib to witness signing

The Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will sign by the end of March a final peace agreement, ending four decades of conflict in Mindanao and opening the way for development of the rich but impoverished island in southern Philippines. Taking a step further in helping secure peace in Mindanao, Malaysia, which brokered the successful peace talks between the government and the MILF, has offered to assist the Philippines in placing well-trained leaders in the government of the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region. President Benigno Aquino III invited Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to witness the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro to acknowledge Malaysia’s role in ending the Mindanao conflict peacefully.
Najib told a joint news conference with President Aquino here on Friday that he had accepted the invitation. “I look forward to attending that very historic ceremony, which will usher in a new era for the people of the Philippines. In the case of southern Philippines, the security and peace in that area will not only benefit the people of the Philippines, but also Malaysia and the region as a whole,” Najib said. An exact date has yet to be set, but Najib said he was invited to come to Manila “by the end of March” as he reiterated his government’s commitment to seeing the peace agreement through.


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PH: Where success lies Aquino Returns From KL With Loads Of Investment Commitments by Genalyn Kabiling March 2, 2014 Share this:



Aquino cited the bilateral trade between the Philippines and Malaysia amount to $3.5 to 4.5 billion.

KUALA LUMPUR, FEBRUARY 24, 2014 (MANILA BULLETIN) President Benigno S. Aquino III flew back to Manila yesterday after a two-day state visit in Malaysia with loads of commitments from Malaysian companies to consider investments in the Philippines.

Before leaving for Manila Friday night, President Aquino told Malaysian businessmen that “the Philippines is where your next success lies” while urging them to join the country’s journey to progress or regret missed opportunities.

“Those who have already bet on our people, and reaped the gains of their investments, can attest to this – companies like the Maybank, Resorts World, and AlloyMTD. I am hopeful that, after today, we will be able to add to this roster – that many of you will join us in realizing the vast potential of our peoples and the entire region,” he said.

During his two-day state visit, President Aquino was assured by three Malaysian companies of their expansion plans in the Philippines, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

Agreements

Aquino concluded his state visit in Malaysia with agreements to foster closer economic and defense ties with Malaysia as well as to seek investments for the Philippines, particularly for Mindanao.

“President Aquino and members of his official delegation discussed with leaders of three Malaysia-based companies opportunities for raising the level of trade and investments between the Philippines and Malaysia,” Coloma said.

Other deals concluded by the President were the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Philippines and Malaysia on Education as well as the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Culture, Arts, and Heritage Cooperation.

The President also revealed that Malaysia expressed its support on Islamic banking and financing, which is expected to boost the growth of Muslim Mindanao.

Aquino cited the bilateral trade between the Philippines and Malaysia amount to $3.5 to 4.5 billion.

Banking

Coloma said Malayan Banking Berhad (Maybank) plans to expand its banking network in Visayas and Mindanao and additional investments amounting to P300 million. The plans were divulged by Malayan Banking Berhad President Datuk Abdul Farid Alias and Maybank Philippines President Herminio Famatigan Jr. to the visiting Philippine leader. Maybank plans to tap into its network of clients and be an active promoter of investments in the Philippines.

Tourism

Coloma said the President cited tourism and infrastructure development as drivers of economic growth amid plans of Air Asia Berhad and Genting Berhad to expand their businesses in the Philippines.

“He thanked Air Asia for initiating a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kalibo, Aklan, that will further boost tourism in Boracay island,” he said.

Meeting the President were Tony Fernandes and Aireen Omar, Air Asia Group CEO and AirAsia Berhad CEO, respectively, as well as Antonio Cojuangco, Air Asia Philippines chairman; Michael Romero, Air Asia Philippines vice chairman; and Marianne Hontiveros, Air Asia Philippines president.

Fernandes signified to President Aquino Air Asia’s interest to partner with government in the development of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 4 (formerly domestic airport) in Pasay City and other airports in major tourist destinations.

Coloma said President Aquino also welcomed Genting Berhad’s expansion projects in the country through its partnership with Resorts World Manila. He said Genting Berhad accepted the President’s invitation for their Star Cruises fleet to make the Philippines a part of its regular cruise destination.

Aquino also encouraged the expansion of the Genting-Star Tourism Academy to further strengthen the pool of hospitality professionals in the country.

Present in the courtesy call on President Aquino were Alliance Global Group Chairman Andrew Tan, Genting Group Director Tan Sri Kok Lim, and Genting Hong Kong Limited Chairman and CEO David Chua Ming Huat.

Don’t Miss Opportunity

Addressing the Business Opportunities Forum before returning home, President Aquino said potential investors could explore various sectors, from manufacturing, to tourism, to agriculture, particularly in oil palm “in which I know Malaysia has had much success in.” He said his Cabinet is willing to tour the businessmen around the country if they are interested.

“I am sure all of us have had the experience of passing up an opportunity in the past. Perhaps, none of you in this room had predicted the turnaround that happened in my country over a relatively short period of time,” the President said.

“Now, you are presented with another opportunity to reap the maximum gains from a country that is experiencing growth, and is set to sustain such growth over many years. Are you really willing to pass up on this opportunity, and set yourselves up for regret somewhere down the line?” he asked.

“I am convinced, and I believe you will be, too: the Philippines, once the laggard of Asia, is now entering a sustainable cycle of empowerment and opportunity, and a trajectory of growth where no one is left behind. Join us in this journey,” he added. (With a report from Madel Sabater Namit)

FROM PHILSTAR

Malaysia seeks hotline with Phl on Sabah By Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 3, 2014 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - Malaysia wants to establish a “hotline” between its security forces and that of the Philippines to prevent a repeat of the standoff in Lahad Datu, Sabah last year between over 200 Filipino militants and Malaysian troops.

The Filipino militants, who called themselves the royal security forces of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, went to Lahad Datu to assert the Philippines’ territorial claim to eastern Sabah.

Scores of people were hurt when Malaysian authorities cracked down on undocumented aliens following the standoff.

While President Aquino did not want to raise the Philippines’ claim to Sabah during his two-day state visit to Kuala Lumpur last week, Prime Minister Abdul Najib Razak brought up the topic in a meeting at the latter’s office in Putrajaya Friday.

“We are looking at the possibility of establishing a hotline between our security forces in the event of any incident,” Najib told Filipino and Malaysian journalists Friday. “We need to ensure immediate interdiction on our Malaysian side as well as the Philippine side, so that is a very important facet.”

Najib said police and security officials from both countries should exchange information to enhance security matters.

He said once there is peace and security, trade and investment will flow in southern Philippines as well as in Sabah.

Sabah is an island strip that Manila previously claimed as its own, but is disputed by Malaysia. Muslims, led by the late Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram III, have claimed ownership of the island, but until now, the government is still weighing its options.

For his part, Aquino was thankful that the Malaysian government did not send home the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos there which could have worsened the country’s unemployment problem.

“We are thankful that they were very conscious about the possible negative effects if they sent all the Filipinos back home at the same time,” Aquino told Filipino reporters.

He admitted that the Sabah issue was raised, but said Manila wants to be sure about its claim on the island.

“We want to be able to tell our people the real score, and in that sense, come up with a consensus based on what is right. If you ask me exactly what the longitude and the latitude of the territory, I didn’t memorize that, I’m sorry. That has to be again verified by historians, by lawyers,” Aquino said, explaining the government’s inaction on the matter.

The Malaysian government wants the Philippines to set up a consulate in Kota Kinabalu – the capital of Sabah – but Aquino said the Department of Foreign Affairs is “re-examining” the territorial and diplomatic issue.

Several sectors have expressed opposition to the idea, saying it would mean that the Philippines had given up its claim over the disputed territory since consulates are established only in foreign countries.

FROM MANILA STANDARD

Did we sell out to Malaysia? By Francisco S. Tatad | Mar. 03, 2014 at 12:01am


By Francisco S. Tatad

MANILA -As an unexplained blackout cast the whole of Mindanao in total darkness last week, President B. S. Aquino III flew to Malaysia on a state visit, casting even greater darkness upon the fate of our long-standing claim to Sabah. The visit----Aquino’s first, and the first state visit by a Philippine president to Malaysia in 13 years---was hyped as most important to both countries.

But we may have lost much more than what we have gained.


Philippines President Benigno Aquino takes a bow as he inspects an honour guard during a state welcoming ceremony outside the Parliament house in Kuala Lumpur February 28, 2014. — Reuters pic

Although Aquino had no difficulty asking Prime Minister Najib Razak to consider increased trade, lend Malaysia’s expertise in Islamic banking, and support the Philippine bid to get the United Nations to arbitrate its dispute with China in the West Philippine/South China Sea, the President, by deliberate omission, failed to say anything about the Philippine claim to Sabah, the most important outstanding issue between Malaysia and the Philippines.

It seemed completely absurd for Aquino to be asking Razak to help him push a “UN approach” to our West Philippine/South China Sea dispute with China, while completely avoiding any reference to the completely analogous situation on Sabah between Manila and Kuala Lumpur.

In both instances, the Philippines wants the International Court of Justice to settle the dispute. But neither Malaysia nor China would hear of it.

Now, Aquino has decided to submit the dispute with China for UN arbitration. This is not the same as taking it to the World Court, but it would still involve a UN process, which is opposed by Beijing.

Did Aquino really think Kuala Lumpur could support us in asking China to accept a UN process, without having to contradict its own objections to our wanting the World Court to adjudicate our Sabah claim?

A secret deal?

Given the propaganda spin on Aquino’s visit, we expected the two heads to discuss the most outstanding issues between their two countries.

Sabah occupies primacy in any listing of those issues. The deliberate omission of the claim, which has lain dormant since Aquino’s late mother Cory Aquino took over from President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, has fueled speculation that a “secret deal” may have already been forged between the political leaders of the two countries, without the knowledge and consent of the Filipino people, much less the Sultan of Sulu, the original owner of the territory, to bury the claim forever.

That charge, even if true, will not be easy to prove.

But it may not even need proof. If the government fails to do anything about the claim, people would naturally take that as proof. It would constitute, in their minds, a betrayal of public trust.

Sabah measures 29,388 square miles, almost as big as Mindanao, with one of the biggest gas and oil deposits anywhere. Originally owned by the Sultan of Brunei, Sabah was ceded to the Sultan of Sulu in 1704, in return for his help in suppressing a rebellion. Of the 700,000 or so Filipinos in Malaysia, about 400,000 live there.

Brief history

In 1878, the Sultan of Sulu leased Sabah to Baron de Overbeck, the Austrian consul general in Hong Kong, on behalf of Alfred Dent, a British merchant for 5,000 Malayan dollars.

Dent eventually passed on the lease to the British Crown, which ultimately passed it on to the Federation of Malaysia in 1965. Three years before that, however, the Sultan of Sulu ceded his sovereign rights over the territory to the Philippine government, which promptly informed the British and Malayan governments of its claim.

In 1963, the Philippines held talks with Britain in London. Nothing came of these talks.

So in 1965, Sabah was made part of the new Federation of Malaysia, despite the objection of the Philippine government. This caused a diplomatic break between Manila and Kuala Lumpur. In 1968, the two parties met in Bangkok in an effort to normalize relations. This was the first and last time they discussed the claim.

The impasse on how to settle the claim was never settled, but the two parties decided to work together as bilateral and regional partners within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, despite their unresolved territorial dispute.

The Sultan’s stand

Last February, some 200 members of the “royal army” of the Sultanate of Sulu landed in Lahad Datu, Sabah from Sulu to “assert” the Philippine claim on their own.

More than 70 of the Sulu fighters perished in that adventure; at least 27 were captured and detained, and are now awaiting trial in Malaysian jails. On Oct. 21, 2013, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, the 33rd crowned ruler of the Sultanate, died in Taguig at the age of 75. He was succeeded by Esmail Kiram II, who was installed in January this year.

Last September, a couple of hundred MNLF fighters entered Zamboanga City to raise the flag of MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari’s “independent republic of Mindanao” in front of city hall. The “independent state” appears committed to the active pursuit of the claim.

But that operation failed. Aquino, who flew to Zamboanga city to oversee the operations, threw in a force of 11,000 against the intruders.

The operation killed almost every one of them, except for their leader Habier Malik, who escaped, destroyed some 10,000 homes, displaced over 110,000 individuals, and disrupted business operations within the entire city at the cost of billions.

Upon Jamalul’s death, Malacañang said the Philippine claim remained alive, and that a government study purportedly ordered by Aquino earlier in March was still going on.

Upon Esmail’s assumption, the new sultan urged Malacañang to exert fresh efforts to pursue the claim. He also appealed to the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Conference to support the Sultanate’s efforts toward a final settlement.

Shattered hope

Many were hoping Aquino would at least try to secure an official statement from Razak expressing hope that a settlement may eventually be reached on Sabah, even though no immediate solution seemed to be on sight right now.

They also expected Aquino to ask for clemency, possibly an amnesty, for the 27 Sulu fighters in Malaysian jails.

Even Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, in his capacity as presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers’ Concerns, travels to foreign countries to plead for clemency on behalf of convicted OFWs.

Yet Aquino said nothing on behalf of the 27, even though have not even been convicted yet.

A big lobby fund?

Speculations of a “secret deal” tend to find support in a report aired in at least one cable TV station a week before Aquino’s visit about a big lobby fund allegedly coming out of Kuala Lumpur and coursed through one of Malaysia’s state sultans to hasten the completion of talks between the Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the creation of a Bangsamoro political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao under the Moro National Liberation Front.

Aquino was profuse in thanking Razak for Kuala Lumpur’s role in brokering the framework agreement, which was signed in Manila in November 2012 with the Malaysian prime minister in attendance, and the four annexes, the last one of which was signed last January 25 in Kuala Lumpur. The agreement has been welcomed with great enthusiasm by many foreign governments, but is not unchallenged even among its intended beneficiaries.

Agreement challenged

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway faction of the MILF, have denounced it as unacceptable, and have paid with their lives in several costly encounters with the military.

For its part, the MNLF threatens to question its constitutionality before the Supreme Court and raise the issue of self-determination and independence for all of Mindanao before the UN. Likewise, numerous political analysts and legal scholars have raised serious political and constitutional objections about the agreement.

Not the least of these objections—as pointed out by Zamboanga ‘s Rep. Celso Lobregat , UP Prof. Merlin Magallona, and others—is the absence of any clause or provision in the agreement acknowledging or affirming the ultimate authority of the Constitution.

To the contrary, the parties agree to amend the Constitution if necessary, to make it conform to the agreement rather than the other way round.

Nonetheless, Aquino seems confident that a final peace agreement could be signed in Manila by the end of the month, and has invited Razak to the grand event. Razak has shown high optimism, and has offered technical assistance in training future Bangsamoro leaders for the transition.

Aquino has apparently accepted the offer. Malaysia is known to run a highly professional bureaucracy; during the time of Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, the incumbent prime minister’s late father, Malaysia was known to have trained some of Misuari’s mujahedeen who fought the Marcos government at the height of the MNLF insurgency.

Malaysia’s role

For that reason, not a few had expressed surprise why Malaysia became the “facilitator” in the negotiations. To them, it did not have the sufficient neutrality to perform that role.

In fact, they saw Malaysia as the possible source of security threat to the Philippines. But such misgiving was never given adequate hearing by Malacañang or by the government negotiators. And it is so much water under the bridge now. What seems to matter most now is that a peace agreement has been signed; whether or not it will bring about a just and lasting peace is but a secondary question.

Losing Sabah forever

If it does not, we can always start again. But if it does, then the Bangsamoro will have acquired something they had always wanted, bully for them!

But the rest of the country should know that they would have lost their claim to Sabah forever. For the successful creation of a new Bangsamoro political entity, with virtually all the attributes approximating those of a “state,” will have effectively redrawn the territorial map of the country, and introduced the equivalent of a “buffer state” between Malaysia and the Philippines. Malaysia would have consolidated its political control over Sabah, making the Philippines’ assertion of its claim virtually impossible.

This would be Aquino’s legacy to the future. Contrary to Christiane Amanpour’s suggestion in her CNN interview with Aquino, his miserable performance in handling the Yolanda disaster will no longer be the defining moment of his presidency; it will be his total surrender of the Sabah claim.

He will go down in history as the Filipino president who did everything to give up a territory as big as and infinitely richer than the whole of Mindanao in exchange for nothing.

One can only hope that a grateful Malaysian government and people would at least erect a giant monument for him in Putrajaya or Kuala Lumpur.

FROM THE INQUIRER

Peace deal signed in March, Aquino asks Najib to witness signing By Tarra Quismundo Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:03 am | Saturday, March 1st, 2014


President Benigno Aquino III and Malaysia Prime Minister Prime Minister Najib Razak. FILE PHOTOS

KUALA LUMPUR—The Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will sign by the end of March a final peace agreement, ending four decades of conflict in Mindanao and opening the way for development of the rich but impoverished island in southern Philippines.

Taking a step further in helping secure peace in Mindanao, Malaysia, which brokered the successful peace talks between the government and the MILF, has offered to assist the Philippines in placing well-trained leaders in the government of the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region.

President Benigno Aquino III invited Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to witness the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro to acknowledge Malaysia’s role in ending the Mindanao conflict peacefully.

Najib told a joint news conference with President Aquino here on Friday that he had accepted the invitation.

“I look forward to attending that very historic ceremony, which will usher in a new era for the people of the Philippines. In the case of southern Philippines, the security and peace in that area will not only benefit the people of the Philippines, but also Malaysia and the region as a whole,” Najib said.

An exact date has yet to be set, but Najib said he was invited to come to Manila “by the end of March” as he reiterated his government’s commitment to seeing the peace agreement through.

State visit’s gains

President Aquino counted the “reaffirmation” of Malaysia’s “help toward attaining peace” in Mindanao among the gains of his state visit, which ended on Friday night with a state banquet thrown in his honor by Malaysia’s King Abdul Halim at the Istana Negara, the national palace.

“People are generally aware that they (Malaysians) have been helping us, but I don’t know how many are aware that they have been helping us for a decade. There has been expense; there has been effort on their part—the facilitators, the monitoring team, and other components of the peace process,” Mr. Aquino said separately in an interview with reporters after his meeting with Najib.
The government and the MILF signed here in January the final annex to the framework agreement, which would decommission the MILF fighting force.

Through the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the government and the MILF are working on a draft of the Bangsamoro basic law.

Mr. Aquino said part of the “organic law” would be an amnesty mechanism to help MILF members “transition from being fighters to being productive citizens.”

Malaysian assistance

To help in the transition, Malaysia offered to provide technical assistance in the training of Bangsamoro leaders, Najib said.

“Malaysia is delighted that we could play our part as a facilitator to support the peace process, and to add strength to that process, we will offer capacity building for the Bangsamoro people because the future government in southern Philippines will require them to have new skills to be part of the government in the future of that area,” he said.

Details of the training arrangement have yet to be released.

During expanded bilateral talks that included trade officials from both countries, Mr. Aquino and Najib discussed enhancing business ties between the Philippines and Malaysia, particularly Malaysian investment in Mindanao in the palm oil industry.

“We believe that, just as Malaysia has been a reliable partner in pursuing our shared vision of a peaceful Mindanao, Malaysia can also further contribute to the development of the Land of Promise by encouraging their businesses to invest in Mindanao,” Mr. Aquino said.

Islamic banking

Malaysia agreed to help the Philippines develop Islamic banking, particularly in training finance professionals who specialize in banking. The Department of Finance had said that “there is no Islamic banking capability or expertise” in the Philippines.

Mr. Aquino said the MILF had asked to run the country’s Islamic bank, the Al-Amanah, “so that a new entity with the necessary expertise will be able to service the banking needs in conformity with the principles of Islam.”

He said Malaysia had expressed interest in acquiring the bank.

“They are willing to provide initial technical assistance as far as Islamic banking and financing are concerned. But they are asking if we will invite them to purchase the [bank]. Of course, it behooves us to get the people who are considered experts… That has to be worked out. There is no finality there yet,” Mr. Aquino said.

The President and Najib agreed that there was a big room for trade between the Philippines and Malaysia to expand, with the current bilateral trade volume pegged at $4.5 billion.

“I believe, in terms of trade and investment, particularly in areas of trade, there’s a lot more we can do between our two countries. Given the size of the Philippines, we believe that the potential is far greater than that, and both our governments agree that we should encourage the value and volume of bilateral trade to increase,” Najib said.

Top Malaysian executives separately met with Mr. Aquino on Friday afternoon in a Business Opportunities Forum aimed at further stirring investor interest in the Philippines.

Sabah dispute

Mr. Aquino said the Malaysian side brought up the dispute over Sabah during his bilateral talks with Najib.

Malaysia brought up last year’s incident in Lahad Datu, Sabah, steering the discussion toward the unresolved dispute over the territory that the Philippines had long placed in the back burner.

The sultanate of Sulu sent about 200 fighters to Lahad Datu in February last year to retake Sabah, leading to a protracted standoff with Malaysian police and military troops.

The standoff ended in the rout of the Sulu fighters led by Agbimuddin Kiram, younger brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram who died last year.

Mr. Aquino said prior to his departure for Malaysia that the Sabah dispute was not on the agenda of his talks with Najib.

Real score

“We told our Malaysian counterparts that we’re not after conflict with anybody. But we want to be able to tell our people the real score, and in that sense, come up to a consensus based on that which is right,” Mr. Aquino said.

He said the Malaysian side raised the issue of Sulu fighters currently facing trial in Lahad Datu.

Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya said the trial of 27 Sulu fighters currently in Malaysian jails was in the prosecution phase, which was expected to be completed sometime in May.

The Philippine Embassy continues to provide legal assistance to the group, Malaya said.

During the talks, Mr. Aquino said the Malaysians reminded the Philippine side that the previous administration had agreed to establish consular presence in Kota Kinabalu.

He said the government was studying the detailed timeline on the sultanate of Sulu and the succession line, information that would help the government solidify its position on the dispute.

The President said the University of the Philippines would be tapped for the study.

The Philippines and Malaysia agreed to boost security cooperation, particularly sharing intelligence for “immediate interdiction” and “deterrence” in areas of common concern between the two countries: the Philippines’ backdoor and Malaysia’s easternmost border.

The agreement aims to deal with crime in the area, including abductions committed by bandits, Mr. Aquino said.

He said the two countries were looking to establish a hotline between the security forces of both sides in the event of an incident of mutual concern.

“We need to ensure immediate interdiction on our Malaysian side as well as the Philippine side, so that is a very important facet. Once we have peace and security, then trade and investment will flow in southern Philippines as well as in Sabah,” Najib said at the news conference.

Maritime disputes

Mr. Aquino meanwhile raised the issue of competing claims in the South China Sea, with Malaysia among the claimants to the resource-rich waterway.

The Philippines is asserting ownership of part of the waters within its exclusive economic zone, an area it calls the West Philippine Sea.

China claims almost all of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, including waters within the economic exclusion zones of its rivals for territory—the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.

Beijing has been aggressively asserting its claim, most recently firing water cannon at Filipino fishermen to drive them away from Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a rich fishing ground off Zambales province in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines has taken its territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea to the United Nations for arbitration.

Before leaving for Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, Mr. Aquino gave instructions to the Philippine Coast Guard not to make any move that China might take as provocation to avoid escalation of the Jan. 27 incident at Panatag Shoal.

Coast Guard vessels have been deployed to the area to protect Filipino fishermen against Chinese harassment.

Philippine officials, however, urged Malaysia, Vietnam and other claimants in the South China Sea to join the Philippines’ legal challenge to China’s expansive claim in the UN arbitration tribunal.

International law

Mr. Aquino said he and Najib stood on the same ground in upholding international law to settle the dispute and in working toward a solution through a multilateral approach within the framework of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“The Prime Minister and I agreed on the peaceful settlement of disputes in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, in accordance with the rule of law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos),” Mr. Aquino said.

“We believe that adherence to the rule of law, positive engagement and sincere dialogue are fundamental, if we are to build a truly prosperous and peaceful Southeast Asia—a Southeast Asia where no one is left behind,” he said.

During their bilateral meeting on Friday, the two leaders also signed bilateral agreements for cultural cooperation and education exchange. With a report from Michael Lim Ubac


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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