Filipino in Sabah: Informal Worker, Illegal Immigrant, and Non-Citizen
The Filipino market hosts more than 200 vendors who have business licenses in which Sulu migrants work mainly as fisheries product trader. It is a symbol of the Philippines existence and act as one of tourist attraction in Kota Kinabalu.
UNHCR built the Filipino market in 1983 as a response for the forced migration – increasing movements and displacement of people – of Sulu archipelago of the Philippines during the Jolo war. Escaping the long-standing conflict between Moslem insurgents and the Philippines military, the third wave of Moslem-Philippines migrants accrued.
“Begado saja. Macam di Bosnia”.
“(The Sulu people) fights all time. Just like in Bosnia”, a Filipino fish vendor explained her reason for migrating to Sabah.
Better economic opportunities – in 1996, the comparison of per capita GDP of Sabah and Mindano is $1371 and $352 respectively – has lured the influx of southerner Philippines both legally and illegally.
The pull factor is clear enough, the developed urban economy of Sabah needs a vast amount of cheap labor force to fill in the position of engineers, clerks, laborers in construction sites, workers in
tourism and service industry, waiters, saleswomen, housemaids, etc. The informal nature of illegal immigrants saves the businessmen by evading necessary taxes.
One might dispute the approximate number of Filipino in Sabah. While Malaysian government gave an official figure of around 500,000 people, the leaders of Filipino community stated twofold estimation of one million mark – means that one of three residents in Sabah is, imprecisely, Filipino.
The distance of Sabah and Sulu archipelago takes less than 20 minutes by boat in some places. As a matter of fact, the landing point is at water bodies near the government building dealing with immigration and security.
When they arrived in Sabah, there are co-ethnics – settler from earlier waves of migration – who facilitate the connection to obtain an identity card or IC.
The former PM Mahathir Mohammad concerted a crafty and deceptive political strategy, called Project ‘M’, in light of this non-citizen issue. These number of shadow IC – comprised of Filipino and Indonesian workers – was in turn being used by the ruling party, UMNO, to win the election by casting a shady vote bank. The Moslem nature of those migrants was an asset to exercise authority over indigenous Sabah who inherently born as Christian.