Sabah standoff puts OFWs at risk

MANILA, Philippines - About 800,000 Filipinos living and working in Malaysia are being put at risk by the standoff in Sabah, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas said on Wednesday, February 27.

The government is trying to resolve the crisis peacefully so the OFWs will not be in danger of losing their jobs if Malaysian employers start to resent Pinoys, Roxas told reporters in Camp Crame.

"It's [very] important that we retain good relations between Malaysia and the Philippines, because we don't want our countrymen there to be mistrusted. We don't want Malaysians to feel like we can't be trusted inside Malaysia and Sabah," the DILG chief stressed.

Most of the 800,000 Filipinos in Malaysia are illegal immigrants in Sabah, where they work in the palm oil plantations and are constantly threatened by crackdowns that lead to deportations.

Apart from the OFWs, the local population in nearby Tawi-Tawi likewise fears a spillover of violence from the tension could affect their livelihood.

Roxas urged the group of 180 Filipinos occupying a village in Lahud Datu, Sabah to peacefully go home and end the crisis that erupted on February 9.

"What's on the President's mind is the safety of these 180 people. Of course [he] wants to avoid something bad happening to them," the government official said.

The followers of the self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan will in the end lose if Malaysia loses its patience over the standoff, he added.

President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday warned Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III that he would face the "full force of the law" unless he withdrew his gunmen from Malaysia.

But the elderly leader remained defiant and demanded talks with Aquino and a share in the future profits of Sabah's economic growth to tell his followers to stand down and return to the Philippines.

"This isn't the right way to pursue this claim, to put our 180 countrymen in a situation that is dangerous for them," Roxas said. - with reports from Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com