After a week at sea, they're finally home
TAWI-TAWI, Philippines - About 50 Filipinos -- all members of an extended family -- arrived in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi on Monday, March 11 from Semporna, Malaysia, using small motorized vessels.
On board 14 boats without roofs to protect them from harsh weather, the group voluntarily left Semporna and spent a week travelling to Tawi-Tawi. They stopped on Sitangkai Island for a couple of days to rest and get basic supplies, said Ashley Sabita, 56.
At least 8 boats docked at Barangay Simandagit in Bongao. The rest decided to go straight to the island town of Tabawan, where most of the returnees' relatives in Tawi-Tawi are located.
With their departure, Norhida Sabita, 29, said their coastal village in Semporna -- where they also lived in stilt houses containing production areas for their seaweed farming ventures -- had become a ghost town.
"We all left. But we left our clothes because it wouldn't fit in the boat," she said in Filipino.
It's now a familiar story. Like most of those who arrived in various areas across Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, family members said they decided to risk travelling on their small and unstable boats for fear that the hostilities in Lahad Datu would spread to their area.
Ashley Sabita said the hostilities have not reached their village but they still decided to leave to ensure their safety. "We heard that Malaysian police forces entered our village when we left," she added.
Malaysian authorities have started a crackdown on undocumented Filipinos in Sabah following the prolonged standoff that's entering its 4th week. At least 72 families arrived on Simunul Island Tuesday, March 5. About 120 repatriates from Sandakan, Sabah, arrived in Bongao Friday night. In Siasi, Sulu, at least 55 Filipinos also arrived Thursday evening.
Ashley Sabita said that while most of their family members already have permits to reside in Malaysia, some of the spouses are still undcoumented.
Anlyn Adain, 22, was born and raised in Semporna but he still decided to leave with his wife, Permena Albaris, 20, along with their 3 kids -- even if Albaris also has a permit to reside in Sabah.
"We don't want to be caught in the conflict," Adain said in the Tausug dialect.
Norhida Sabita said they plan to travel to Tabawan. There, they will carry on with their lives and try to make a living through fishing.
Tawi-Tawi is also expecting the arrival of about 480 Filipinos stranded on Taganak Island this week. A Philippine Navy ship left Sunday, March 10, to fetch them and distribute supplies in the island.
The local government, Red Cross and the Department of Social Welfare and Development are assisting the displaced families. - Rappler.com