DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 December) — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday announced that the Philippines will “ban the movement of people from Sabah to Sulu” and “enforce the blockade of people trying to break the blockade,” in response to Sulu governor Sakur Tan’s appeal for assistance following reports from Malaysia’s Health Ministry on the discovery of a new strain of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Lorenzana announced the ban during an emergency meeting called for by President Duterte in Malacanang on Saturday with the COVID-19 task force and medical experts to discuss the new COVID-19 strain discovered in the United Kingdom.
But travel between Sabah and Sulu, and Tawi-tawi, Basilan and Zamboanga City, however, has been banned since the COVID-19 lockdowns in mid-March. The only persons exempted from the travel ban were 5,300 undocumented Filipinos in Sabah who were to be repatriated to the Philippines. They are now referred to as REFS (Returning Filipinos from Sabah).
Of this number, 2,119 REFS have been repatriated between June 30 and November 10, leaving 3,000 more in Sabah. (see other story)
Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Director-General of Malaysia’s Ministry of Health announced on December 23 that a new strain of COVID-19, dubbed A701B mutation was found from samples taken in Sabah’s Lahad Datu.
The nearest Mindanao province to Lahad Datu in Sabah, East Malaysia is Tawi-tawi.
Secretary Carlito Galvez, Chief Implementer of the National Task Force on COVID-19 said they will “coordinate with the military through Secretary Del (Lorenzana) on how we could help Sulu and also in Tawi-tawi so that the intrusion of the possible – possible (new strain of COVID-19) cases be prevented.”
He also cited Basilan, which, along with Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, comprises what is referred to as BaSulTa.
Galvez said they had forwarded the letter of the Sulu Governor to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and to the Department of Foreign Affairs “so that they can also arrange with Sabah and also with our post in Malaysia.”
President Rodrigo Duterte said what is “very important in that area is really the control of the entry — of people.”
“Whether or not they have — they have in their bodies already the virus, that’s another thing. Ang kailangan natin ikontrol ‘yung borders natin (what we need to control is our borders), adding “maybe General Lorenzana might be able to harness the assets of the Philippine Navy, additional, our patrol ships.”
Lorenzana then told the President about banning the movement of people “from Sabah to Sulu.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)