CEBU CITY, Philippines - Filipinos, especially the Tausugs or Orang Suluk in Bahasa Melayu, are anxious about their safety in Sabah, Malaysia, following violent clashes between Filipino gunmen and Malaysian security forces there.
Fatima expressed this concern after receiving a text message from her cousin who is in Sabah. Fatima refused to reveal her full identity for fear of her family's safety.
"Nalapay katan in manga Tausug di garagara sin manga penceroboh ini. Basta aun Tausug amun naguusal passport saggaun, di na sambungan in passport Imm13, " Fatima said in Tausug. (All the Tausug here have been affected here because of the Sulu army's intrusion. All who are using the Imm13 passport are being apprehended and are not being given extension.)
The Imm13 is a temporary pass given to Filipino refugees in the 1980s.
Thousands of Filipinos living in Sabah have already acquired citizenship and have been issued an IC or a Malaysian identification card.
But Filipinos have noted instances of discrimination ever since the Lahad Datu standoff that began February 9. The situation turned for the worse this week, they said.
Malaysia had launched two attacks on the armed group, the first one last Friday, March 1, which killed 27 people, including at least 6 Malaysian policemen. An air raid followed on Tuesday, March 5.
A Sabah-based Filipina interviewed on local radio in General Santos City Tuesday said they were being segregated according to tribes and that their movements have been limited and closely monitored by Malaysian authorities.
Fatima, on the other hand, said that one of her relatives was turned down by a bus driver as he travelled to Kota Kinabalu even if he was holding a Malaysian ID card.
She also cited instances when Malaysian security personnel confiscated the ICs of Filipinos. "They can easily distinguish Malaysians from Filipinos even Tausugs by how the name is written," Fatima said.
Filipinos also fear retaliation from the local Borneo tribes, citing the killing of the Sarawak policemen last March 1, who were all based in Semporna, Fatima said.
There are an estimated 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah. Most of them were part of the exodus from Mindanao at the height of the Moro insurgency in the 1970s. They are either into trading or working as farm workers in palm oil plantations.
Malaysia regularly deports hundreds of undocumented Filipinos, although the biggest batch of deportation happened under the Estrada and Arroyo administrations. (Read: The forgotten problem of Sabah's halaw)
On Tuesday, at least 72 Filipinos arrived in Tawi-Tawi from Sabah. Of the the 72 displaced individuals, 35 are male, 22 female and 15 are children, according to Mujiv Hataman, acting governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Anticipating mass deportation from Sabah, ARMM officials are on heightened alert.
Malaysia has yet to respond to repeated Philippine requests for a ship to be allowed to bring home women and children caught in the crossfire.
A Filipina who was interviewed by Bombo Radyo Gensan Tuesday morning said they were also told by Malaysian security forces that the armed Filipino followers of Jamalul Kiram II are members of the al-Qaeda affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group.
According to her, Malaysian police and security forces have separated the Tausugs from the rest of the Filipino ethnic groups but added that they have not been harmed or threatened. She said she did not know the reason why they are segregated according to ethnicity.
The Tausugs are the dominant ethnic group of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi but some Maguindaoans, Yakans and Samals have also established residences in many parts of Sabah. - Rappler.com