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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.
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
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. – Rappler.com