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As I See It

2 senatorial candidates on the Sabah issue

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Many Filipinos are dismayed by the neglect of the Philippine government of our brother Muslims now being chased, abused, or killed by Malaysians in Sabah. It is as if our government officials, including the President, are vassals of Malaysia. Those are our fellow Filipinos being killed out there. What are you doing?

President Aquino tells them: “Surrender without conditions and come home.” And when they come home, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima will detain and file charges against them. Why will they come home when their own government is going to prosecute them? On whose side is P-Noy’s administration, anyway? On the side of the Filipino citizens who elected him, or on the side of Malaysia?

Many Filipino civilians in Sabah have come home to escape the fighting, complaining of abuses done to them by the Malaysian police—and what does their own government do? It said it will have to validate the complaints, which means nothing will be done for many months while the red tape in the validation process is lengthened.

Malaysia wants Sultan Jamalul Kiram III extradited to that country, to be detained there and tried in court. But it refuses to extradite Manuel Amalilio, the brains behind the billion-peso Ponzi scam in Mindanao that has victimized tens of thousands of Filipinos.

Sabah was the subject of a debate between two independent candidates for senator at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday.

Former Ambassador Roy Señeres of the OFW Family party-list group, and Capt. Victor Ybañez Alviola of the Amor Seaman party-list group, have opposing views on the Sabah issue.

Señeres said Sabah belongs to the Sultanate of Sulu. It was given to the first sultan, great-great grandfather of the present sultan, in gratitude for his help in quelling a revolt in Brunei. The British North Borneo Company leased it from the Sultan of Sulu for a fixed amount every year. When the Federation of Malaysia was formed, it was annexed by Malaysia without the permission of the sultan. Until now, Malaysia is paying the yearly rent to the Sultanate of Sulu, which means it acknowledges the ownership of Sabah by the sultanate.

On the other hand, Captain Alviola said a referendum of the residents of Sabah was held in which they were asked whether they would prefer to be part of Malaysia or part of the Philippines. The majority of the residents, Alviola said, opted to stay with Malaysia.

Asked what bills they will file in case they become senators, Señeres was ready with a pamphlet detailing his proposals. Among them:

1. The remittance of overseas Filipino workers’ pay to their families should be regulated so that the huge fees will be reduced. A Remittance Regulatory Commission should be set up.

2. The government should serve as surrogate employer of OFWs and shoulder their SSS/Pag-Ibig/PhilHealth premiums.

3. Easy loans and special livelihood training should be provided to returning OFWs.

4. The government should care for OFWs who are kidney and cancer patients. Because of the very high cost of treating these diseases, even the life savings of an OFW family will not be enough for payments.

5. Philippine embassies and consulates and the concerned government agencies should require irresponsible OFW parents to send sufficient funds to their families.

6. All government agencies should speed up the resolution of cases, and mediate cases pending in the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court to quickly resolve them.

7. Ambassadors and consuls should serve as surrogate parents of OFWs, especially the runaways and those detained. They should personally look into their cases. This should be the test of their service.

8. Governors and mayors should establish help desks to give quick help to families of OFWs who encounter problems.

9. The government should care for OFW families who have lost their breadwinners through death or lifetime disabilities because of their work abroad. Give scholarships and allowances to the oldest child. As “economic soldiers,” these OFWs should be considered “casualties” of the war against poverty.

For his part, Alviola does not want seamen to be lumped with OFWs. He said that unlike ordinary OFWs, seamen have to undergo special training and have to pass tests to obtain their licenses.

But doctors undergo more rigorous training and have to pass very difficult board examinations, yet they don’t mind being called OFWs when they go abroad. What’s so special with seamen? Alviola was asked.

He replied that seamen pay higher fees to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration because their tours of duty last only for three to six months, and they pay the fees each time they leave.

That’s not true, a journalist said. The fees are the same for everybody. And they are good for two years, so no matter how many times you leave, you pay the same amount for two years.

I can’t recall Alviola’s answer to that.

* * *

Many people are asking when the next concert of Margaux Salcedo, the new singing sensation, will be. Well, here it is: March 22, 9 p.m., at the Tap Room of the Manila Hotel.

Margaux will sing your favorite songs from famous Broadway musicals. And judging from the success and standing-room crowd of her Valentine’s Day concert, this concert will again be crowded. So come early.


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