President Duterte has appealed to the Malaysian government to extend humanitarian aid to Filipinos stranded in Sabah despite the “ticklish” issue over the territory.
The President made the appeal after receiving reports that over 3,000 Filipinos in Sabah are still awaiting repatriation. The two Asian neighbors recently had a diplomatic tiff over the overlapping claims over Sabah.
“That has been a very ticklish issue between our government and we are trying our best to appeal to the humanitarian sense of the Malaysian government to please help our citizens in your country as we would do for your citizens if they are in our country,” Duterte said during a televised public address Monday night.
Prior to Duterte’s remarks, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reported to the President that around 400 Filipinos in Sabah are expected to return home this coming Monday. They will be the fifth batch since the government started the repatriation of 5,300 Filipinos in Sabah last July. The trips are implemented in batches of 400 every 15 days.
“Kapag dumating po iyon na mayroon ng mga 2,000 na dumating, mayroon pa tayong 3,000 na nandoon naghihintay po ng — ng tulong para umuwi dito sa atin (Once they arrive, we will have 2,000 who have arrived. We still have 3,000 there waiting for our help to return home),” Lorenzana said during the meeting with the President and some Cabinet members.
As of September 13, Lorenzana said around 200,431 overseas Filipino workers from various parts of the world have returned to the country amid the coronavirus pandemic. An additional 80,000 Filipino workers are expected to return home this year.
Last month, Malaysia issued a note verbale rejecting the Philippines’ claims over Sabah. It said Kuala Lumpur has “never recognized the Republic of the Philippines’ claim to the Malaysian state of Sabah, formerly known as North Borneo,” asserting that Manila had no basis under international law.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier corrected a United States tweet claiming Sabah is part of Malaysia. He insisted that “Sabah is not in Malaysia.” Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein later chided Locsin for his supposed “irresponsible” tweet and summoned Manila’s ambassador over it.
Malacañang has stood firmly behind the country’s claim over Sabah but stressed such issue should not affect the healthy bilateral ties with Malaysia.