MANILA, Philippines (Updated) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the creation of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) in early March "to protect the sovereignty and security" of the state.
The command will be activated on Monday, April 1, following the appointment of Sabah Immigration Director Datuk Mohammad Mentek as ESSCOM director. Malaysian state media Bernama reported his appointment on Friday, March 29.
ESSCOM will watch the 1,400-km coastline of Sabah villages Lahad Datu, Kudat, Tawau, Kunak, and Sandakan. It will be headquartered in Lahad Datu, where followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III were holed up during a standoff with Malaysian security forces.
"I believe in his qualification, experience, knowlede and credbility will enable him to help ESSCOM well and ensure public order and security in the sepcial security zone," said Chief Secretary to the Government Datuk Seri Dr Ali Hamsa when he announced Mohammad Mentek's appointment.
Three Immigration, Customs, Quarantine and Security (ICQS) inspection centers will start operating in ESSCOM on Tuesday, Bernama also reported.
"Twelve cabins will be used as temporary offices -- 6 would be at the ICQS Lahad Datu, 4 in Kudat, and 2 in Pualu Banggi. All the cabins had arrived at the locations on Thursday," it quoted Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.
Najib announced the creation of ESSCOM on March 7 but it took weeks to finalize details. Various articles in Bernama cited the involvement of the armed forces, police, and maritime forces. There were also reports that Semporna wants to join ESSCOM.
Bernama also reported that the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) received an allocation of RM5 million "for equipment upgrades." The amount is supposed to fund the purchase within a month of mobile containers, bullet-proof jackets, weapons and ammunition, and forward-looking infrared (FLIR devices) "to help MMEA boats and vessels to spot floating debris and other boats in total darkeness or poor weather."
The allocation is meant to support the East Sabah Safety Zone (ESSZONE), which was created on March 25 to provide legal basis for ESSCOM. The ESSZONE take effect on Monday, April 1.
Malaysian police officers are also considering increasing police presence in Sabah. New police stations are being built.
ESSZONE covers 10 districts. Aside from the 5 villages covered by ESSCOM, ESSZONE includes Kota Marudu, Pitas, Beluran, Kinabatangan, and Semporna. It is chaired by Sabah Chief Minister Seri Musa Aman.
Filipino evacuees from Sabah have been talking about the so-called "operasi," an alleged operation to deport undocumented Filipinos in Sabah.
In Zamboanga City, DILG-ARMM Asec Sharifa Pearlsia Dans previously told reporters at least two evacuees told her about the operasi that was supposed to start on March 25.
In Bongao, Jalil Jaladil talked about the same thing. A registered Filipino resident in Sabah, he has houses in Bongao Tawi-Tawi and Kunak in Sabah. He didn't give a date, but he said news reports in Malaysia said it would be implemented "in a month."
About 5,000 Filipinos have fled Sabah so far. Reports in Bernama have not verified the supposed deportation plans. ESSCOM was reportedly set up to deter illegal entry to Sabah.
Undetected, about 200 of Kiram's men were able to sail to Lahad Datu sometime in February.
"ESSCOM will play a major role in maintaining peace in Sabah and it will monitor the coastline and detect any suspicious activities including preventing any terrorist intrusion in future," state media Bernaman quoted Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar in an earlier report. - Rappler.com