• Anwar will only be in the Philippines for one day and is expected to speak with Marcos Jr.
  • Trade between the two countries have been generally good over the years
  • The Philippines' sultanate of Sulu says Sabah was a gift from the Sultan of Brunei

Malaysia's Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim will visit the Philippines on Wednesday, officials said Monday. The Malaysian leader is expected to discuss bilateral relations with President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., and the two may possibly discuss the issue in the long-disputed territory of Sabah.

"He will meet with President Marcos and deliver a public lecture and have other engagements," Philippine diplomats and officials told GMA News. The officials further revealed that Marcos Jr. and Anwar are expected to talk about strengthening security, political and economic ties between Malaysia and the Philippines.

Officials are also expecting the two leaders to discuss regional and global issues, which may include talks about the territorial dispute in Sabah.

Marcos Jr. previously congratulated his "good friend" Anwar after the latter was appointed as Malaysia's new prime minister late in November. During their publicized phone call, Marcos Jr. said he was confident that he and Anwar would cooperate in strengthening the economies of their countries as they had similar goals.

Trade relations between the two nations have generally been stable over the years. From August 2020 through August 2021, export volume saw a $4.13 million increase between the countries and imports increased by $147 million, as per data from the international trade research group The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC).

Security ties have also been generally good, as the countries in late April 2022 renewed the terms of reference (TOR) for cooperation.

At the time, Philippine Army (PA) chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the parties' "converging security interests, our shared sense of ASEAN identity, and our common vision of a more stable and peaceful Southeast Asia are the pillars by which this Terms of Reference stands."

However, the dispute for Sabah still stands. The said conflict has been ongoing for decades as the two nations both have claims over the area.

The Philippines' Sultanate of Sulu claims that the territory of North Borneo was given as a gift from the Sultan of Brunei as a reward for Sulu, Mindanao for the province's support during the 1600s war, as per Nikkei Asia.

The sultanate bases its claim on a land lease agreement in 1878 between Sulu and the British North Borneo Chartered Co. A French arbitral ruling in March 2022 ordered Malaysia to pay the sultanate's heir $14 billion for an alleged land lease violation. Malaysia has refused to recognize the said ruling.

After winning the presidency in August, Marcos Jr.'s press secretary Trixie Cruz said the president had not yet revealed whether his statement of "not giving up a square inch" of Philippine territory to other claimants also applies to Sabah, ABS-CBN reported.

There have only been two Philippine presidents who actually recognized Sulu's claim: Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos, the current Philippine president's father.

Malaysia, for its part, has insisted that Sabah is a part of Malaysia. Sabah was previously called North Borneo before the Malaysian Federation was established in 1963. Sabah joined Malaysia during the same year, but the Philippines refused to recognize Malaysia at the time.

It is unclear whether Marcos Jr. and Anwar will be able to discuss the dispute over Sabah, considering that the Malaysian PM will only be in the Philippines for one day.

However, some observers have had increasing hopes that discussions regarding Sabah may finally be rekindled since Anwar is known for his friendships with several Filipino political leaders, including Marcos. Jr.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a news conference to announce his cabinet at Putrajaya
Anwar will visit the Philippines on March 1, officials said. Reuters