MANILA – Malacañang on Thursday stood by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in insisting the Philippines’ claim over Sabah.

Citing Article 1 of the 1987 Constitution, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippine territory includes “all the other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction”.

“Nasa Saligang Batas po kung ano ang teritoryo ng ating bayan (What compromises our national territory is in the Constitution),” he said in a virtual press briefing from Quezon City.

Roque backed Locsin, saying the Philippines obtained Sabah from Brunei as a gift for helping put down a rebellion on Borneo Island.

However, he also recognized the country’s conflicting claims with Malaysia, which believes that Sabah was ceded to them. The Philippines claims Sabah was only leased, not ceded, to the British North Borneo Co.

Despite this unresolved territorial dispute, Roque said the Philippines and Malaysia continue to enjoy “friendly” bilateral ties in recent years.

“You know this unresolved territorial dispute has been dormant. It has not affected our friendly bilateral relations and I think we will definitely maintain this friendly bilateral relations despite and in spite of this unresolved dispute,” he said.

He acknowledged that there may not be a resolution to the territorial dispute in the near future, but noted that it will not affect the long-established bilateral ties between the two countries.

In a tweet on Thursday, Locsin summoned the Malaysian Ambassador to Manila to explain Kuala Lumpur’s side on the Sabah issue.

This, after he engaged in a Twitter spat with Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein who earlier directed his ministry to summon Philippine Ambassador to Kuala Lumpur Charles Jose on Monday for what he described as an “irresponsible” statement made by Locsin regarding Sabah.

Locsin, however, insisted that the Philippines, just like any other country, is free to say what it wants.

“No country can tell another what it can and cannot say about what the latter regards as rightfully its own. I don’t insist China say only what we want to hear about the Arbitral Award. It is free to say what it wants while we say and do what needs doing. That holds for Sabah,” Locsin said in his tweet.

The Twitter spat was sparked by a July 27 tweet posted at the United States Embassy in Manila page, which tagged Sabah as part of Malaysia.

Locsin berated the embassy and quote-retweeted the content, saying: “Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines.”

On Wednesday night, Hussein responded by calling Locsin’s remarks as “irresponsible” while underscoring that “Sabah is, and will always be, part of Malaysia” and that Philippine Ambassador to Kuala Lumpur Charles Jose will be summoned on Monday over the issue.

In a prior tweet, Locsin said Manila continues to assert its claims on Sabah as it does with its rights in the West Philippine Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte, in previous speeches, assured that the government has not abandoned its claim on Sabah. (PNA)