By Daniel Llanto

No coincidence that Malaysia barred long-term pass holders and travelers entering from the Philippines  after Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced a plan to revive an old office in the Department of Foreign Affairs dedicated to claiming Sabah.

Starting September 7, long-term pass holders from the Philippines, including travelers from India and Indonesia, would be barred from entering Malaysia due to “serious concerns over the recent increase in the number of confirmed imported COVID-19 cases from these countries.” Pass-holders are frequent visitors to a country allowed free movement therein.

The planned revival of the long deactivated Office of North Borneo Affairs (ONBA) was announced by Locsin after Malaysia issued a note verbale on the Philippine Sabah claim last week.

Locsin claimed in a series of tweets that there had been “repeated offers” from Malaysia for Manila to drop its claim over Sabah.

The new travel restrictions were imposed on Filipino travelers entering Malaysia as well as those boarding Qatar Airways flights.

Previous information on travel restrictions for other countries and regions remains the same, the DFA said.

Malaysia said they imposed the restrictions following the confirmed “imported COVID-19 cases” detected at the international points of entry of Malaysia among travelers proceeding “from the Philippines, India and Indonesia.”

Filipino long-term pass holders affected include permanent residents, Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) pass holders, expatriates in all categories such as professional visit pass (PVP) holders, resident pass holders, spouse visa holders (including their children) and students.

Malaysian immigration authorities, however, may consider entry of nationals from other countries on compassionate grounds and emergencies.

The DFA said diplomats and their dependents from the three countries are exempted from the new restriction, provided prior approval was obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Immigration Department of Malaysia.

The DFA said Qatar Airways recently announced that all passengers from the Philippines are required to present a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR before they are allowed to board their flights.

Those unable to comply with this requirement, which shall be presented with a consent form, will not be allowed to board the airline’s flights.

“Given all these developments, the DFA continues to remind the public that information contained in the infographics is subject to change without prior and sufficient public notice,” it said.

The Department advised Filipino travelers to check ahead of travel dates with airlines as well as with embassies or consulates before booking a ticket and before departure.

Claims over Sabah have been an on-and-off point of contention between Malaysia and the Philippines for more than six decades.

In the note verbale to UN, Malaysia  rejected the territorial claims of the Philippines over Sabah.

In it, the Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations said that Kuala Lumpur “has never recognized the Republic of the Philippines’ claim to the Malaysian state of Sabah, formerly known as North Borneo.”

Malaysia also noted an October 2001 decision by the Judgment of the International Court of Justice on Manila’s claims over the disputed state.  The note verbale also included an opinion by Judge Ad-hoc Thomas Franck regarding the issue of Sabah.

Franck’s opinion read: “In light of the clear exercise by the people of North Borneo of their right to self-determination, it cannot matter whether this Court, in any interpretation it might give to any historic instrument or efficacy, sustains or not the Philippines claim to historic title.”

“Modern international law does not recognize the survival of a right of sovereignty based solely on historic title: not in any event, after an exercise of self-determination conducted in accordance with the requisites of international law, the bona fides of which has received international recognition by the political organs of the United Nations,” he added.

“In light of the above, the Republic of the Philippines’ claim to North Borneo clearly has no basis under international law,” Malaysia wrote in the note verbale.