Duterte asks Malaysia to help Filipinos in Sabah awaiting repatriation

MANILA — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has appealed to the Malaysian government to extend humanitarian assistance to Filipinos stranded in Sabah despite the “ticklish” issue over the Philippines’ claim to the Malaysian state on the tip of Borneo.

“That has been a very ticklish issue between our government and we are trying 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 in a Cabinet meeting televised on Monday (Sept 14), as quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“A human being should never, never be a commodity that is just left behind to rot,” he said about stranded Filipinos, before talking specifically about those in Sabah.

It was not clear what kind of assistance Duterte had wanted from Malaysia.

The Philippines have been repatriating its citizens who are stranded abroad due to travel restrictions from the Covid-19 pandemic.

At that meeting, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said 3,000 Filipinos in Sabah had been awaiting repatriation while 2,000 had already returned to the country, the Manila Bulletin reported. The trips are organised in batches of 400 every 15 days.

As of Sept 13, Lorenzana said around 200,431 overseas Filipino workers have returned to the country from across the world amidst the coronavirus pandemic. 

In July, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr sparked the ire of his Malaysian counterpart Hishammuddin Hussein with a controversial tweet, “Sabah is not in Malaysia”.

Locsin was reacting to a US Embassy item about a donation of hygiene kits to over 300 Filipinos repatriated from Sabah to the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Hishammuddin criticised Locsin’s remark as “irresponsible” before he summoned Philippine envoy to Malaysia, Charles Jose to demand an explanation.

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