With over 3,000 Filipinos still facing deportation in Sabah, President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to the Malaysian government to extend humanitarian help to the stranded immigrants.
"We are trying our best 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," the President said in his address to the nation late Monday evening.
Duterte urged Malaysia to extend a helping hand despite the "ticklish" issue of Sabah.
He made the appeal in response to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's report that around 400 Filipinos from Sabah will arrive back in the country this week -- the fifth batch since the deportation process for at least 5,300 started on June 30.
Meanwhile, the Philippines' claim over Sabah should not have been allowed to go dormant and the issue was expected to be taken up by regional peers, Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin Jr. said Tuesday.
During a budget hearing, Locsin was asked to update lawmakers on the developments regarding the BIMP-EAGA or the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area.
"It's been pretty dormant for a while, but now we agreed to revive it pretty much, like, I guess, even some of our special concerns like Sabah. That too was put on the back burner which I never agreed to," Lacson said.
Last month, Malaysia fired off a note verbale rejecting the territorial claims of the Philippines over Sabah.
The note verbale said Malaysia “has never recognized the Republic of the Philippines’ claim to the Malaysian state of Sabah, formerly known as North Borneo."
In July, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. called the attention of the United States embassy in Manila over its tweet saying Sabah is part of Malaysia.
"Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines," Locsin said.
Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was quick to retaliate on Twitter, calling Locsin's tweet "irresponsible."
Meanwhile, the President directed the country's embassies and consulates to check on Filipino seafarers who may be stranded in open waters amid various lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"A human being should never be a commodity that is left behind to rot," the President said.
"Nakakaawa naman ito. It pains me to realize that nandito ako and I cannot help Filipinos who are struggling even just to exist....Tinataboy sila. They are floating without knowing what will happen tomorrow," he added.