Pinoys from Sabah arrive in Tawi-Tawi

Angela Casauay

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About 120 Filipinos arrive in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi Friday night, to escape violence in Sabah

HOME. Filipinos living in Sandakan, Sabah arrive in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi following the bloody Sabah standoff. Photo by Angela Casauay

TAWI-TAWI, Philippines  – On board two boats and with children in tow, about 120 Filipinos living in Sandakan, Sabah, arrived in the capital town of Bongao, shortly past 8pm Friday, March 8.

They’re among the hundreds of Filipinos — more than 400 so far — who have left Sabah since the 3-week standoff between the armed followers of the Sultan of Sulu and Malasyian security forces turned bloody on March 1.

The evacuees were escorted by the Philippine Navy patrol ship BRP Sultan Kudarat, which intercepted them while they were on their way to Bongao.

Some of those we interviewed said they don’t think they’d go back to Sabah. “We can’t find jobs anymore,” said one in Filipino. Most of them don’t have legal papers to stay long enough in Sabah.

PH asks Malaysia for access to Filipinos in Sabah
On Friday, the Philippines sent yet another note verbale to Malaysia to seek clearance for the entry of a humanitarian mission that will assist detained Filipinos in Sabah. This request is contained in 4 previous note verbale to Malaysia — to no avail.
“We have asked the Malaysian government to treat our people under their custody humanely. That’s our continuing approach. We expect and we have already informed the Malaysian Embassy that our Philippine Embassy team in Lahad Datu be given full access to the Filipinos,” Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

The Philippine government also wants to be able to assist Filipinos who are affected by the hostilities. There are estimated 800,000 Filipinos Malaysia, mostly in Sabah.
RELIEF. Food was served before the evacuees went through processing and documentation.  
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said Secretary Albert del Rosario is also “in contact on a daily basis with the Foreign Minister and other officials of Malaysia.”

Hernandez said Del Rosario, in his trip to Malaysia, followed up on the country’s requests for the following:

  • full briefing on the situation
  • exercise maximum tolerance to avert further loss of lives
  • clearance for the Philippine Navy ship to proceed to Lahad Datu
  • for humanitarian and consular services to be made available to the Filipinos in Lahad Datu
  • consideration for women and other civilians not involved in the hostilities to be able to exit the area of conflict
Hernandez said the requests “are still being considered in light of the security environment.”

Task Force Tabang Basulta

In Bongao, Red Cross staff members have started interviewing them for documentation. Local officials here said they will spend the night at the Maharadika Institute of Technology. At least 7 elementary schools here are also prepared to accommodate evacuees.

A crisis management committee called Task Force Tabang Basulta (Basllan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) has been convened to take care of the returning Filipinos.

On Thursday, March 7, at least 55 returning Filipinos also arrived in Siasi, Sulu. A few days earlier, government said they had monitored the arrival of more than 300 Filipinos from Sabah since the start of the conflict last February 9.

Hernandez said there are arrangements in Malaysia, too. “The DFA, particularly our Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, has a contingency plan in place to quickly extend consular and humanitarian assistance to the affected Filipinos. Meanwhile, DOLE has activated an inter-agency Task Force Malaysia to coordinate and monitor the assistance to returnees at the one-stop centers in Zamboanga City and Bongao, Tawi-Tawi,” Hernandez said.

The armed followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III declared a ceasefire Thursday, but Malaysia refused to match it, asking them instead to surrender.

Malaysia said it had arrested over 60 Filipinos over the conflict and that 52 have been killed in the standoff, 8 of whom are Malaysian policemen.

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