DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 April) – The chair of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) on Saturday denied he made a proposal to set up a consulate in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia to provide assistance to several undocumented Filipinos, including issues of statelessness of the children there.
In a statement reacting to an April 22 report citing a tweet from Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. that the proposal by a senior official of the Duterte administration to set up a consulate in Kota Kinabalu is “treason,” Secretary Abul Khayr Alonto, MinDA chair, said what he proposed was not a consulate but a cultural office in Kota Kinabalu to implement various initiatives and programs to strengthen the cultural ties between Filipinos and Malaysians who share the same historical origins and cultural affinity.
“A Cultural Office could also serve as a mechanism to assist Filipinos working and living in North Borneo, particularly providing them with social services that they currently do not have due to the standing claim of the Philippines on Sabah,” he said.
The MinDA chief denied making a statement that he would leave it to “the Malaysian Foreign Ministry to convey the message that Sabah was an independent entity within Malaysia and that the Philippines should drop its claim on Sabah.”
As the Philippine Signing official for the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), Alonto admitted to meeting Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal in September 2018 in Kota Kinabalu to push for the revival of the barter trade system in Mindanao and to sustain the transport connectivity between Sabah and Mindanao.
“I recall that my meeting with the Sabah Chief Minister was closed-door and a private one. Our discussion focused on mechanisms that could sustain the sea and air transport linkages between Sabah and Mindanao, including Palawan, as well as reviving the centuries-old barter trade system in our border areas,” he said.
Alonto said the plight of several undocumented Filipinos living in Sabah was taken up in his meeting with the Apdal aside from discussions on the joint efforts to promote trade and tourism activities and provide sustainable income and livelihood to poor communities to help secure the porous island regions of Sabah, Mindanao, and Palawan from terrorist threats and other criminal/illegal activities.
“It was my view that a large number of our undocumented Filipinos need to be assisted. However, I underscored that this effort had not been easy through the years considering the political implication of such action to our national policy. I merely stated that I will work this out with our Foreign Affairs Ministry,” he said.
He said MinDA had endorsed a board resolution urging Locsin to approve the signing of the BIMP-EAGA Facilitation Center document, and conduct an immediate study on the proposed establishment of the Cultural Office in Kota Kinabalu.”
The institutionalization of the BIMP-EAGA Facilitation Center (BIMP-FC), the Central Secretariat of BIMP-EAGA based in Kota Kinabalu, remains subject to due diligence, according to Locsin. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)