Press Release
March 2, 2013

Diplomacy, dialogue must be pursued

Sen. Chiz Escudero wants an inquiry on reports that some 100 Filipinos residing in Sabah had been rounded up in the aftermath of the standoff between Malaysian forces and armed followers of the Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III.

"My concern since the standoff began was for our countrymen residing in Sabah. If the reports of arrests are true, then this is the bigger tragedy that demands an immediate resolution," Escudero said.

There are an estimated 800,000 Filipinos residing in Sabah, most of whom are reportedly subjected to frequent exploitation by Malaysian authorities since they are not Malaysian citizens.

Escudero had earlier urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to immediately set up a representative office in Sabah to document the stateless Filipinos to resolve their status and make available to them basic government services.

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

"Siguro pagkakataon na rin natin ito na tutukan yung kapakanan ng humigit-kumulang 800,000 Pilipino na nandoon sa Sabah na hindi kinikilala ng Malaysia ngunit ayaw din naman nila kumuha ng Philippine passport dahil baka paalisin sila sa Sabah kung nasaan yung trabaho nila," (It opens the door for our government to look into the welfare of 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah who are not recognized by Malaysia but who still choose not to acquire a Philippine passport because of their fear that they will be sent home from Sabah), Escudero said.

He explained that the country's interest should be detached from the private claim of the Sulu Sultanate since involving the whole nation in it may affect the Philippines' good relations with Malaysia.

"My personal view is that the Sabah claim is a personal issue involving the Sultan of Sulu. It's a private right and a private claim. He cannot say, however, that Sabah is part of the Philippines," Escudero said.

He also called for both Kuala Lumpur and Manila to pursue dialogue as the primary means of resolving the Sabah issue as he noted that the heirs of the Sulu sultan have already intimated that the issue could take a positive turn if the compensation being paid by the Malaysian government were to be raised substantially.

"This issue would best be settled through diplomacy. There will be a common ground somewhere down the road, and this is what our governments must pursue," Escudero said.

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