Government agencies and the public should call Sabah by its own name alone, without annexing it to Malaysia, a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) official reminded Monday.

Attorney Roy Ecraela, of the DFA’s Office of the Undersecretary of Special and Ocean Concerns, made the reminder in a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) meeting chaired by Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin.

“All government agencies are directed to refer to Sabah as just Sabah, without referring to it as Sabah, Malaysia,” Ecraela said, citing Memorandum Circular No. 162 issued by Malacañang in 2008.

The memorandum is consistent with Republic Act 5446 or the Baselines Law and a Supreme Court ruling issued on July 16, 2011, Ecraela noted.

Member-agencies of the NDRRMC met Monday to discuss aid for Filipinos who left Sabah amid Malaysian troops’ operations against followers of the Sultanate of Sulu.

During the meeting, the Department of Social Welfare and Development made a presentation of the services it provided to people who left “Sabah, Malaysia.”

This prompted a Coast Guard official to ask if there were already changes to government policies in referring to the state, where the Philippines has an existing claim.

The claim stems from the Sultanate of Sulu’s historical ownership of North Borneo, which it received as payment from a sultan of Brunei and later leased to a British company.

Consistency pushed

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Ecraela said the DFA also encourages the public, including the media, to be “consistent” with the government’s stand on Sabah.

He noted that some television reports referred to Sabah as if the Philippines already abandoned its claim.

“Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Tanggalin na ‘yung Malaysia,” Ecraela said, giving an example of how to name Sabah locations in news articles.

Asked if this meant that security forces should not say things such as “border patrols,” Ecraela said, ”Yung nakagawian natin, minsan iba rin talaga ‘yung reality.”

No evacuees, just ‘displaced persons’

During the meeting, the NDRRMC also agreed to call Filipinos who fled the fighting and military operations in Sabah as “displaced persons.”

Gazmin said NDRRMC member-agencies had been using different terms so he asked them how to differentiate one from the other or at least find a proper term.

Ecraela said Filipinos who left Sabah should not be called evacuees, refugees, or even returnees since they regard the state only as a neighboring province or town.

Fore people in southern provinces Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and Basilan, there are “false borders or no borders at all,” he said.

“For centuries, people consider this movement as crossing from one town to another… Para lang silang mga taga-Pampanga na nagtatrabaho sa Manila,” Ecraela said.

Displaced folk nearing 4,000

Ramon Santos, director of the Office of Civil Defense in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said 3,693 Filipinos have arrived from Sabah as of March 23.

An additional 186 displaced persons arrived Monday afternoon, he said.

The OCD-ARMM is currently prepared to assist 100,000 displaced persons, Santos said. (John Roson)

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