About 7,000 undocumented Filipinos in Sabah are set to be deported, President Duterte said yesterday after returning from a two-day visit in Malaysia.
Duterte said he discussed the matter with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
“It’s okay with them. I said, no clemency, except give us time,” he said.
Duterte also said he wants to address the bigger problem: Filipinos in Malaysia do not have proper education.
“We cannot expect Malaysia to absorb them because hindi sila citizens. They should be… learning our history, not the history of another country,” he explained.
Duterte is also mobilizing a team to determine the needs of Filipinos in Sabah and to seek the intervention of a third party organization like the World Health Organization to provide medical assistance to undocumented Filipinos.
He wants medical personnel deployed in Sabah to provide medical help to those who need treatment. Most of the Filipinos there are Tausugs.
“We will deploy nurses, medical personnel there. I pity them. Most of them are Tausug but they are Filipinos and they should be attended to,” the President said.
“So I will ask government to intervene. We will have to put up schools there,” he added.
Sabah claim on back burner
The Philippine claim on Sabah was “put on the back burner” in the bilateral meeting between Duterte and Najib.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said the issue was discussed only in passing and Duterte was not the one who brought it up.
“It may not be resolved within the shortest possible time (as) it may take many years before we could find a workable and acceptable solution. But we agreed that this will not stop us from pursuing the other aspects of our relationship, which is really more important at this time,” Yasay told reporters in an interview at the Marriott Hotel in Putrajaya.
“In a manner of speaking, we had set the Sabah issue on the back burner, on the side and we agreed to engage ourselves more vigorously in the area of trade and investment and the other aspects of mutual cooperation,” he added.
On the possibility of setting up a consulate in Sabah, Yasay said it would not be a sound move at this point, considering that both countries have a claim to the island.
“Putting up a consulate there can be a very sensitive issue... there are a lot of contentious issues. It is more complicated than the South China Sea issue,” he added.
Economic and security cooperation
Duterte said his meeting with Najib focused on the need to further strengthen the Philippines-Malaysia partnership for a safe, secure and stable region.
The Philippines and Malaysia agreed on strengthening economic relations, including revitalizing the East Asia Growth Area and establishing stricter security cooperation on the sea borders of the two countries.
What is more important, Yasay said in a separate interview, is that the sea borders are controlled and secured from piracy and hostage-taking activities.
He noted that this security arrangement was the same one agreed upon in an earlier meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, who was present during the bilateral talks on security, said the rules would have to be discussed and agreed upon in succeeding meetings between Philippine and Malaysian military and police forces.
Since the Philippines and Malaysia have security concerns on the presence of Abu Sayyaf group responsible for a series of kidnapping, the two countries will work on ways to prevent terrorist groups from preying on foreigners and locals in the region.
“With Malaysia, we committed to explore all available options to ensure greater collaboration in the joint coordinated pursuit, the interdiction and the arrest of criminals and terrorists plying the waterways between our countries,” Duterte said.
Earlier this year, the President said his administration made headway with the signing of the Framework for Trilateral Arrangement between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines on Immediate Measures to Address Security Issues in the Maritime Areas of Common Interests.
Duterte also credited Malaysia for its help in pursuing peace in Southern Philippines.
“As we proceed with the implementation phase of our peace process, Malaysia will continue to play an important role,” he said.
“The Philippines is ready to work with Malaysia and all partners interested in securing for generations of the Mindanaoans and Filipinos a future free from fear and conflict,” he added.
Before he flew to Kuala Lumpur last Tuesday, Duterte also went to Bangkok where he paid last respects to King Bhumibol Adulyadej.