Press Release
February 19, 2013


The government should play its diplomacy card well in the ongoing standoff between armed followers of the Sultan of Sulu and Malaysian forces and prioritize the welfare of Filipinos in Sabah, Senator Chiz Escudero said.

"The immediate concern of the government should be the welfare of Filipinos who were born and raised in Sabah which is the bigger humanitarian issue that must be addressed through diplomatic channels," Escudero said.

Filipinos living in Sabah are reportedly subject to frequent exploitation by Malaysian authorities since they are considered illegal immigrants, the senator said.

Escudero urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to set up a representative office in Sabah to document Filipinos who are stateless and thus deprived of social services from both the Malaysian and Philippine governments.

"The welfare of our countrymen who consider Sabah as their homeland should be the focus of the government's negotiations with the Malaysian government," Escudero said.

He added Filipinos in Sabah pose a unique diplomatic dilemma for the government since the decision to maintain a status quo, which favors the good relations between the Philippines and Malaysia, leaves open questions on the fate of our countrymen born and raised in it.

The government should pursue negotiations with Malaysia over the residency status of Filipinos living in Sabah who are considered "undocumented aliens" by the Malaysian government.

Escudero noted reports that these Filipinos are even subjected to bodily harm when apprehended by the Malaysian police.

The government's continued engagement with the Malaysian government is critical in the face of the possible escalation of the standoff after Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram said his followers are not planning to leave Sabah as ordered by the Malaysian authorities, Escudero said.

The Sultanate of Sulu had a historic lease agreement with the British government, which occupied Malaysia, over the eastern part of North Borneo.

The British authorities, without seeking consent from the Sulu Sultanate, turned over Sabah to the Federation of Malaysia when it was created in 1963.

The Sultanate, however, ceded to the Philippine government its title and sovereignty on Sabah to President Diosdado Macapagal in 1962. The government claim on the territory had since been on and off but President Aquino had decided to maintain the claim dormant.

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