It seems strange to hear the “Lupang Hinirang” being sung in Sabah, the state in East Malaysia to which the Philippines has a longstanding claim on behalf of the Sultanate of Sulu.

The Philippine national anthem is being heartily sung by children of undocumented Filipinos in the disputed territory who are given free education, thanks to volunteers from the Filipino community there and the drive of the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia.

Stairway to Hope Learning Center in the capital of Kota Kinabalu is one of six alternative learning centers (ALCs) in Sabah where more than 2,000 children of undocumented Filipinos are enrolled.

Besides the Philippine national anthem, the children at the ALCs are taught “reading, arithmetic, Bahasa and like skills,” according to Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya.

‘Rampant illiteracy’

Malaya said the ALCs were put up by members of the Filipino community in Malaysia, with the embassy’s encouragement, in response to the “rampant illiteracy” of thousands of Filipino children in Sabah who had no access to public schools because of the irregular status of their parents.

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