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ARMM Govs to Kiram: Think of OFWs

MANILA, Philippines - Think of the welfare of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Sabah who could be deported due to the standoff. 

This is the appeal of the governors of the 5 provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III in a bid to convince the Sultan of Sulu to ask his followers to come home. 

In a press conference on Monday, March 4, in Quezon City, Lanao del Sur Gov Mamintal Adiong Jr, Basilan Gov Jum Akbar, Sulu Gov Abdusakur Tan, Tawi-Tawi Gov Sadikul Sahali and Maguindanao Gov Esmael Mangudadatu called for a ceasefire and leniency towards OFWs working in Sabah. 

Tan appealed to the Malaysian government not to deport Filipinos working in Sabah despite the conflict. "Kung pwede yung mga OFWs natin ay huwag sana pabalikin dahil sila ay nanahimik naman sa Sabah," Tan said. (If possible, we hope that the OFWs in Sabah won't be deported because they are not involved). 

If hostilities between Malaysian authorities and the armed followers of the Sultan continue, Tan warned that the ARMM government may not have enough resources to support Filipinos coming back home in case of mass deportation.

"Kaya kami nanawagan sa ating Sultan na sana maconsider ang problema na pwedeng mangyari sa ating mga kababayan… na madamay nito dahil magkakaroon tayo ng problema, dahil magkaka-shortage tayo ng pagkain, o kaya peace and order natin maapektuhan. At kawawa yung mga pababalikin na wala tayong maipakain. Wala tayong bahay na maibigay sa kanila, na shelter. Kalaki-laki ng mga problema na 'yan. (That's why we are calling on our Sultan to please consider the possible problems that our countrymen… who will be affected by this could face because we will have problems, because there will be food shortages or our peace and order situation will be affected. We don't have houses or shelters to give them. This will be a big problem.)

Talk to Sabah claimants

As "heirs" of their own community and as fellow Muslims, Sahali said the ARMM governors must be allowed to talk to their Muslim brothers who are in Lahud Datu. 

"We intend to appeal to the Sultanate of Sulu, to the Philippine government, to the Malaysian government that we be allowed to talk to the leader of those more than 200 who went to Sabah recently," Sahali said. 

"Given the chance if there is a go-signal from the President, I think that is what we are here for. We want to talk to those people in Sabah, especially Raja Mudah, who is now the leader of the Sultanate Army who went to Sabah," he added. 

Tan has been in touch with Sultan Esmail Kiram, youngest brother of Sultan Jamalul. On Sunday evening, for example, he said he told him about his concerns that the ARMM government may not be able to feed and provide shelter for possible deportees. 

Tan confirmed there had been talks between the Philippine government and the Sultan of Sulu prior to the breakout of hostilities. 

He said the proposal was for the Sabah claimants to be allowed to go back to the Philippines provided they would not be arrested. "Ang proposal yata ay pababalikin, di gagalawin. And then 'pag umuwi parang ganon, uuwi na sila. Parang ganon, na uuwi na di aarestuhin, di sisitahin," Tan said. 

When President Benigno Aquino III made his first public address after Kiram's followers trooped to Sabah, he reminded them of their possible violation of the Philippine Constitution

Even before the government and Kiram's followers could reach an agreement,  the firefight already erupted, Tan said. 

'Course concerns through government'

Asked about personalities and other groups who are expressing their support for the Sultanate of Sulu, Mangudadatu said it would be better if they would just course their concerns through the government. 

"Dapat alamin muna natin ito at saka kaya naman tong resolbahin, i-course through nila sa government. Anong mangyayari? Kawawa lang naman and mga kababayan natin. 'Yung expression sa bawat isa, okay lang naman yan pero isipin ang bawat isa," Mangudadatu said.  (We should study this first and this can be resolved, just course it through the government. What will happen? Our countrymen will suffer. Expression for one another, that's okay but let's think of each other)

Recently, actor Robin Padilla -- who said his conversion to Muslim was inspired by Kiram -- and senatorial bet Bayan Muna Rep Teddy Casiño visited the Sultan of Sulu. 

All 5 governors of the provinces of ARMM are members of the Liberal Party.  - Rappler.com