MANILA - The Philippine Navy (PN) announced that its forces in Tawi-Tawi have intercepted two motor launches with Filipino evacuees from Sabah on board.
Navy spokesman Lt. Cdr. Gregory Gerald V. Fabic said PN vessels conducting naval blockade at the boundaries of Sabah and Malaysia spotted the two motor motor bays around 6:30 a.m. yesterday.
When intercepted, it was discovered that the motor launches were carrying 121 people, more than 3,000 sacks of rice and assorted foodstuff.
It was also found out that the people on board were Flipinos from Sandakan in Sabah who have opted to escape from the on-going violence between members of the Sulu Royal Army and Malaysian forces.
"They were heading for Bongao in Tawi-Tawi. Our ships escorted them to Bongao for proper disposition," said Fabic.
Citing initial reports reaching him, Fabic said the vessels may reach Bongao within the day.
Meanwhile, Fabic said a report that thousands of followers of the Sulu sultanate have been able to slip through Sabah borders is "extremely doubtful".
"On intelligence report, there are indeed a number of supporters of Sabah claim but movement of hundreds more so thousands can't be done unnoticed," said the PN spokesman.
Fabic also noted that with the escalating tension between the Malaysian authorities and followers of Sultan Kiram, the Philippine government had been urged to act for thousands of Filipino civilians in Sabah who are affected by the ongoing clash.
"With the pronouncement of Malacaṅang to repatriate affected Filipinos back home safe and secured, the Philippine Navy has deployed BRP Tagbanua (AT 296) since February 25. Through inter-agency efforts, repatriation teams composed of doctors, nurses and social workers were also onboard the navy vessels in order to provide humanitarian and medical assistance," said Fabic.
Real time updates were continuously monitored by the Philippine Navy through its satellite monitoring stations.
"The defense in Sabah is a law enforcement activity. Hence, the Philippine Navy’s contribution in resolving the crisis is just to enhance its naval barrier as well as to reinforce maritime security in the vicinity of Mangsee in Palawan and in the waters off Sulu and Tawi-Tawi to ensure that no more Kiram followers will be able to slip through the backdoor channel to prevent further escalation of the situation," stressed the PN spokesman.
He further said, "the naval barriers along our borders are well patrolled by both our Naval Forces West (NFW) in Palawan and Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) in Zamboanga and their Marine units have adequately covered all possible ports where they will be available to monitor their movements."
"In fact, barrier patrols have been able to control movements both in and out, assisting those fleeing Sabah from the violence as well as illegal transit across the border," he added.
"Yet, the Philippine Navy supports the notion of having legal and peaceful means to resolve the said issue. This is part of the Philippine Navy’s mandate to preserve stability and harmony within the region for the best interest of the Filipino nation," stated the Navy spokesman.