MANILA - The Philippines has formed a task force to bring home some 5,300 Filipinos from Malaysia-governed Sabah starting June 30, Malacañang said Tuesday.
A new inter-agency group will facilitate the return of the Filipinos from Sandakan in Sabah, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said. Sabah is a territory south of the country declared part of the Malaysian federation in 1963.
The Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and the Bureau of Quarantine will serve as lead agencies of the inter-agency group.
The trips will be done in batches of 400 persons with 15-day intervals, Roque said.
Zamboanga City will serve as the processing area for the Filipinos, he added.
The government requires all returning Filipinos to undergo COVID-19 testing and a 14-day quarantine to control the local transmission of the virus.
The Philippines had laid claim over Sabah, a territory part of Malaysia’s northern Borneo, citing a land lease agreement in 1878 between the Sultanate of Sulu and the British North Borneo Chartered Co.
There had only been intermittent discussions between the Philippines and Malaysia over the claim, and the latter has continued to govern the territory. In November 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte and then Prime Minister Najib Razak agreed to set aside the dispute.
In 2013, hundreds of militants from Tawi-Tawi went to Lahad Datu in Sabah to assert their claim, calling themselves "Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.”
Malaysia has sentenced 9 Filipinos to death over the incident.