Incoming Upko chief urges strong response from Federal Govt after latest Sabah claim

KOTA KINABALU: A Sabah Opposition leader has urged the Federal Government to issue a strong response after a Filipino senator fanned renewed calls for the Philippines to stake their claim on the state.

Datuk Ewon Benedick (pic), the incoming Upko president, also called on Sabahans to unite and stand strong to denounce yet another attempt to claim their beloved territory.

This was after the Philippine-based ABS-CBN news reported that Senator Francis Tolentino had asked his country’s Department of Foreign Affairs to seize the opportunity to stake the Philippines’ claim to Sabah, following an arbitration award to the heirs of the defunct Sulu Sultanate.

“A Philippine senator has again made a strong statement urging his government to further claim Sabah and even justify his assertion with the presence of 750,000 undocumented Filipinos in Sabah,” Benedick said, in a statement here on Friday (Sept 30).

He said this will not only create a crack in the diplomatic relationship, but possibly more tension among the people.

“This is a long-standing issue because the Federal Government failed to find a real solution. How long more do we have to wait for this?

“I therefore urge all Sabahans to be united against this senator and against their intentions. Sabah is ours and we must protect this land fearlessly,” he added.

Tolentino had told his country’s Department of Foreign Affairs to “seize the opportunity” to stake the Philippines’ claim to Sabah following the US$14.9bil (RM69.2bil) arbitration award granted to the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate against the Malaysian government.

According to ABS-CBN news, the senator made the assertion during the Commission on Appointments committee hearing on DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo’s nomination.

As such, Benedick, who is Kadamaian assemblyman, urged Putrajaya to take bold action against undocumented Filipinos in Sabah.

“Their presence is probably more than 750,000 and certainly poses a security risk to Sabahans.

“It happened before and it could happen again. The time has come for the Federal Government to have the political will to resolve this issue once and for all,” he said.

At the same time, he also urged the Sabah government to take the lead in pressuring their Federal counterparts to resolve the undocumented Filipinos and illegal immigrants issue in Sabah.

“It cannot be that the state government refused a motion on this issue to be debated in the state assembly (previously), and yet no real action is being taken to address the issue.

“Even in Kota Kinabalu, stateless children are disturbing traffic commuters asking for money. This makes Sabahans really uncomfortable,” Benedick said.