MANILA, Philippines --- Malacañang is protesting the alleged cruel treatment of Filipinos in Sabah amid the Malaysian police crackdown on armed loyalists of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and their supporters.
Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte said they have received complaints from Filipinos about the supposed harsh treatment by Malaysian authorities and described such behavior as “unacceptable.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will contact its Malaysian counterpart to relay the government’s concerns about the welfare of the Filipinos in Sabah, according to Valte.
“We have been receiving these reports from our countrymen who have gone back to different places in the south, there are those going to Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Zamboanga and these reports are unacceptable,” Valte said over government radio.
“This kind of treatment on our Filipino citizens or Filipino nationals is unacceptable which is why the DFA will be contacting their Malaysian counterparts to speak about these particular reports,” she added.
Malaysian security forces have launched operations against Kiram’s group and their suspected supporters in a bid to end the bloody siege in Sabah. The crackdown reportedly included shootings and beatings at the hand of the Malaysian police, forcing hundreds of Filipinos to flee the territory and return to the Philippines.
As Malaysian forces continued pursuit operations against the Kiram group in Sabah, Valte said the government has already appealed for humane treatment for Filipinos in the area.
She said they also requested “full access” to the Filipinos in Sabah so its can extend consular and humanitarian assistance. But such request is still pending given the security situation in Lahad Datu, Valte added.
She noted that President Aquino earlier obtained the assurance of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to spare the innocent Filipinos in his government’s pursuit of the intruders in Sabah.
“This is one of precisely the things that President Aquino raised in his conversation with the Prime Minister of Malaysia that we are hoping that other Filipinos will not be dragged in the conflict in Sabah,” she said.
Meanwhile, a daughter of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III said yesterday independence is out of the plans of the Sultanate of Sulu, even if they won the disputed Sabah back.
Asked if the sultanate was considering independence if it gets back the disputed territory, Princess Jacel Kiram said: “Well, that is not in the plans. We have a Filipino heart. So what we are striving for is not only for the Kiram family, not only for the sultanate alone, but for the entire Filipino people,” she said on DZBB radio.
She said the group of her uncle (Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram) has split into small groups, apparently to avoid detection from the Malaysian authorities which has put in place a tight cordon in the affected villages.
This means that the rajah muda has shifted to guerrilla tactics, blending into the jungles of Sabah.
She said yesterday her uncle was okay as they try to elude their pursuers. But they are also getting hungry because of lack of food, she added.
Meanwhile, Philippine authorities continued to receive Filipinos fleeing from the conflict in Sabah, intercepting lately at least 130 more refugees on board a motorboat in the waters of Tawi-Tawi, reports reaching the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) leadership in Cotabato City said yesterday.
The reports quoted Lt. Commander Lawrence Roque, commander of the Philippine Coast Guard station in Bongao, as saying that the latest refugees – mostly women, children and the elderly – were taken off Taganak Island, also known as Turtle Island, near Sandakan, Sabah.
The refugees were escorted to Bongao, the capital of Tawi-Tawi, where they were assisted by Task Force Tabang, which was formed to help civilians displaced by the hostilities in Sabah, according to ARMM’s social welfare and development officials.
They claimed to have escaped from Sabah for fear that they would be rounded up by Malaysian security forces reportedly raiding houses of residents with Filipino-sounding surnames.
Also yesterday, Mindanao bishops appealed to the government to do its best in saving the lives of Filipinos caught in the ongoing violence in Sabah.
Government leaders, they said, should not merely tell Filipinos to get out of Sabah rather do more “for the sake of life and peace.”
The bishops in an article posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website urged the Aquino government “to support the appeal of the United Nations for an immediate end of the violence in Sabah and to press upon the two contending forces to heed the UN call.”
Malaysian police said yesterday two officers were injured in shootouts with Filipino gunmen as they try to end a month-long incursion in remote Sabah state that has already left 61 people dead.
Fifty-three militants and eight police officers have been shot dead since a group of armed Filipino Islamists landed in the state on Borneo island last month to resurrect long-dormant land claims of a self-proclaimed Philippine sultan.
Malaysia, facing its worst security crisis in years, insists the gunmen must surrender unconditionally, but the men have refused to lay down arms, hiding within a security cordon around two villages, palm oil plantations and swamp.
Sabah police chief Hamza Taib said gunmen have traded fresh fire with security forces since late Saturday with shots hitting two officers who were sent to a hospital in Sandakan town for treatment.
He also said six more people have been arrested in the state under a security lawand are being investigated for ‘‘committing terrorist acts,’’ bringing the total held under the law in relation to the crisis to 85. (With reports From Edd K. Usman, Ali G. Macabalang, Leslie Ann G. Aquino, Mike U. Crismundo, Nonoy E. Lacson, and Agence France Presse)