2,631 Filipinos flee Sabah as of March 13

Carmela Fonbuena
272 more Filipinos arrived in Taganak island in Tawi-Tawi on Sunday, March 18

WORKING SUNDAY: DILG-ARMM Asec Sharifa Pearlsia Dans and DSWD-ARMM head documentor Eduardo Baird (Photo by CARMELA FONBUENA)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Updated) – The influx of Filipinos from Sabah continues. There are 272 who arrived in Tawi-Tawi’s Taganak island on Sunday, March 17.

About 30 of them were accommodated in a ferry naval boat. They are expected to reach Tawi-Tawi’s capital Bongao Sunday evening.   

The Philippine Navy is now arranging to pick up the rest, according to Sharifa Peralsia Dans, chair of the Crisis Management Committee Coordinating Center.

Taganak is an island very close to Sandakan in Sabah – a distance of about 15 nautical miles. 

From March 5 to March 13, DSWD data show the government has assisted a total of 2,631 Filipinos – mostly undocumented – who fled Sabah as a result of the standoff between Malaysian security forces and followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. Kiram’s group is staking their claim on the disputed territory.

Most of them came from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi —  1,460 and 1,171, respectively.

But Dans acknowledged there’s “definitely” more than 2,631 Filipinos who fled Sabah.

“We know that we might not be able to capture all,” Dans told reporters Sunday afternoon at the headquarters of the Crisis Management Committee in Zamboanga City. 

“If you are aware of the map of the Sulu archipelago — we have 410 islands — any island or local government unit is a veritable destination. It is very wide,” Dans added.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has various processing centers in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Zamboanga City attending to the Filipino “returnees.”

Those who were “processed” in Taganak, for example, will be processed again in Bongao. Those who need to go to Zamboanga City before they are able to go home will be processed again in Zamboanga City. 

“If you just returned, more or less you are still confused. You are overwhelmed,” Dans said.

Talk of a March 25 operasi?

Dans said many of the Filipinos returnees fled Sabah because they are afraid of the possible crackdown as a result of the standoff.

DSWD processing center in Mampang, Zamboanga City (DSWD photo)

One of the returnees Dans was able to “interview” told her about a supposed March 25 “operasi” or operation by the Malaysian police to crackdown on Filipinos in Sabah.

“Whether that will push through or not is another thing. She said they decided to flee Sabah before the operasi,” Dans narrated.

There’s an estimated 800,000 Filipinos in Malaysia, most of them are in Sabah.

Dans said it’s going to be a big challenge if the so-called operasi is true. She recalled the time between 2002 and 2004 when 60,000 Filipinos were reportedly deported because of Malaysia crackdown on undocumented migrants. 

'INTERVIEW': DSWD processing center in Mampang, Zamboanga City (DSWD photo)

In Baguio City on Sunday, President Benigno Aquino III criticized Kiram in his speech during the graduation ceremony of the Philippine Military Academy. Aquino said Kiram thought only about himself, and this was the root of all problems.

“Did its masterminds consider how their actions would affect the majority?,” Aquino asked, saying the recent skirmishes between Malaysian authorities and the Sulu army have put the lives of 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah in danger.

“Did the masterminds of this situation consider any of this as they provoked and aggravated the situation—as they gathered the funds needed to rent boats, to buy gasoline and food, guns and bullets?” he said. – Rappler.com

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.