MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/07 March) – The government is unprepared in case Malaysia decides to deport en mass Filipino workers from Sabah where some 200 followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III clashed with Malaysian forces early this week, Senator Francis Joseph Escudero said in an interview with radio station DXDB-AM in this city Wednesday.
Kiram’s followers had gone to Lahad Datu, Sabah to assert the Sulu Sultanate’s proprietary rights over the resource-rich region.
“But we are already preparing. We have proposed an office of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Zamboanga City,” Escudero said.
The senator said there are around 800,000 Filipinos working in Sabah who need government attention in the aftermath of the violence that erupted there after Malaysia decided to end the standoff with a military assault.
He cited that Malaysia considers the Filipino workers [in Sabah] “stateless” because they hold no passports.
He added they don’t enjoy benefits like social security and health insurance.
By noontime Thursday, Kiram had declared a unilateral ceasefire to prevent further loss of lives. His declaration for a truce came hours after United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged an end to violence in Sabah, Malaysia and called for dialogue among all parties to peacefully settle the problem. (see separate story)
“Let this be a chance to look at this bigger problem,” Escudero said, adding Filipinos should rally behind President Aquino, who has drawn criticisms from several sectors after issuing statements on the crisis that were perceived to be favorable to Malaysia.
Aquino has repeatedly blamed the sultan for the violence and called his cause “hopeless”
“If he (Aquino) has shortcomings, then let’s take him to account after, as lives of Filipinos are endangered in Sabah,” Escudero said.
He called on other politicians not to use the crisis to improve their ratings in surveys by fueling the sentiments of Muslim Filipinos, particularly the Tausugs of Sulu.
“Lives of people and national interests are at stake here, not just about winning an election,” he added.
Escudero said nobody would want to be in the shoes of the President in case the situation in Sabah escalates into war. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)