PH awaits word on ship to Sabah

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government disclosed on Saturday, March 2, it is still awaiting Malaysian approval for a "humanitarian" ship to dock in Sabah to help Filipinos affected by Friday's shootout.

The assault by Malaysian police on the group of about 200 Filipino-Muslims led by Raja Muda Muedzul Lail Kiram led to the death of at least 10 people. The President has already asked Raja Muda and his remaining 214 of his people to surrender after the Sultanate of Sulu said they are bent on staying.

In a briefing on Saturday, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said that the ship they intend to send to Sabah will have food and medical supplies as well as a team of social workers to assist those in need of help.

"The Secretary of Foreign Affairs requested that our ship be allowed to dock. So we are told that we have to wait for the Malaysians to [grant permission.] We have to respect that they’re in control of the situation there," Almendras said.

"The ship is ready. We have a medical team, there is food, everything is there. As a matter of fact, DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) has dispatched even teams to try to seek out the families of those that need to be attended to," he added.

Legal assistance

On the provision of legal asistance to the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu in the event they surrender, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said it is too early to say.

Lacierda said since Raja Muda and his group have not surrendered, there was "nothing to speculate on." However, he did say that the government provides legal representation for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and even undocumented workers.

"We will answer that when the proper time comes. So far, as a matter of practice, we do provide legal representation for OFWs or undocumented workers. But this is sui generis, so this is something that we will discuss at the proper time. They have not surrendered so there’s nothing to speculate on," Lacierda said.

A week ago, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said a ship was on a "humanitarian mission" to fetch and ferry back the women and civilians among the group of Filipinos holed up in Lahud Datu, Sabah.

Filipino-Muslim leaders as well as social workers and medical personnel were supposed to be on the boat that would sail from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi to Tanduo, Lahud Datu.

The DFA said in a statement the Malaysian government was informed about the vessel's departure on Saturday, February 23, but at the time, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman was quoted as saying he had "yet to be informed on this matter." 

Local residents were staying indoors and the usually bustling coastal town of Lahad Datu was quiet with most shops closed on Saturday, March 2. - with reports from Cai Ordinario/