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Victims of Apathy and Neglect: ‘Stateless’ Filipinos in Sabah

July 4, 2008


It is time for louder alarm bells to be sounded on the fate of up to hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who are considered ‘stateless’ and now increasingly unwelcome in North Borneo a.k.a Sabah.

The Department of Foreign Affairs conservatively puts the number of Filipinos in Sabah at 200,000 while former labor undersecretary Susan ‘Toots’Ople, says the actual figure could very well be 400,000 with the number swelling with each passing month.

Sabah is so near the southernmost tip of Tawi-tawi that you can cross over by banca. On certain days, are told one can even walk to Sabah using the top ridges of atolls that become exposed when the tide is very low.

Not a few Filipinos are known to be languisging in jails in the Sabahan capital of Kota Kinabalu, most recent of them several fishernen from Navotas whose rickety trawler wandered into Malaysian-controlled waters.

The Philippine embassy in kuala Lumpur has been unable to extend help to the jailed Filipino fisherman because Ambassador Victor Lecaros is severely understaffed and short of funds.

‘Toots’ Ople confirmed this to us in a phone conversation, revealing that there are only three embassy personnel handling consular affairs. “Ambassador Lecaros’ heart is in the right place.” Ms Ople assures, “but our embassy is really short of logistics that it cannot even afford to send anyone for the long trip to Kota Kinabalu.”
Ms ople now heads the non-government think tank named in memory of her father, the revered Blas F. Ople (who is considered by many as one president we never had).
Ok. But now, for the first time, the federal government in KL and Sabahan members of parliament are talking in one loud voice for the mass expulsion of Filipinos from Sabah.
A dispatch in the Sabah daily Malaysia Star says, “A Philippines government suggestion that its citizens who have been in Sabah for a long time be accorded Malaysian permanent resident status has drawn opposition from state leaders.
“Malaysia has its ways of dealing with illegal immigrants and as far as I know, this is not one of them,” said Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department Datuk Nasir Tun Sakaran.
He said it was inconceivable for Malaysia to simply accept Filipino nationals on the basis that they had been staying in Sabah for a long time.
Former chief minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee said Philippines Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr.’s suggestion was “irresponsible” as no country would simply accept the citizens of another nation.
“It is an indication that the government concerned is not looking after the welfare of their citizens,” said Yong, the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president, in adding that Malaysia must take on a more “aggressive” stance when dealing with the Philippines government over the illegal immigrant problem.
Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk V. K. Liew, who is also the Liberal Democratic Party president, said Conejos’ remarks were only a suggestion that Malaysia had every right to ignore.
Conejos was reported by foreign news agencies in Manila on Wednesday that Malaysia should consider granting permanent residence status to Filipino migrants who had been staying in Sabah for a long time.
He said some Filipino nationals had been in Sabah for such a long period that they no longer had any relatives in the Philippines nor spoke any Filipino dialects.”
With the Sibuyan Sea tragedy aftermath still hugging the headlines and Congress in recess, the onus is for the executive department, both the DFA and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, to redouble their efforts and quick focus of the imminent danger facing our compatriots in Sabah.
Even the popular Filipino dry goods and seafoods section in the public market of Kota Kinabalu could become a focus in the increasing anti-Filipino rhetoric of Sabahan officials. The Filipinos are helping the local economy while countless others work in the palm oil and timber industries, yet they are unwanted.
The Ople Policy Center is urging government to craft, and implement, a proper reintegration program for the Filipinos who have sought better lives in the now inhospitable territory.
We should also not forget that as far as the Sultanate of Sulu is concerned, Sabah was only leased to the British East India Company with the British Crown turning over the territory ‘illegally’ when Malaysia was formed in the early 60s.
As proof of the lease, albeit expired, the sultanate asserts that as late as 2004, the Malaysians have been paying yearly rent for Sabah.
The long standing Philippine claim itself has been left deep in the diplomatic back-burner with the current freeze on the Philippine Baselines Law, courtesy of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago who ii much too focused on trying to land a seat in the International Court of Justice.
Saklolohan ang mga Pinoy sa Sabah sila (come to their aid) is the operative call here.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 7, 2008 10:54 am

    sabah is part of the philippines…malaysia pays for the rent…..tulungan natin ang kapwa pinoy duon sa sabah!!!! at yung baseland laws natin nasan na????

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