MANILA, Philippines—The government should prioritize the welfare of Filipinos in Sabah by playing its diplomacy card well in the ongoing standoff between armed followers of the Sultan of Sulu and Malaysian forces, Sen. Chiz Escudero said Tuesday.
“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 in a press statement.
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 that 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.
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.