BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi – Close to 700 Filipino Muslims arrived in this province aboard four motor launches last Monday, sending indications that more evacuees are expected to arrive as tension between the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu and the Sabah police forces continued to rise.
Governor Sadikul Sahali said Task Force Tabang reported that about 50 refugees arrived shortly before sundown on Monday at a mini wharf at the village of Kasulutan in this town aboard a temper (mini boat) and pump boat.
Sahali said the refugees were immediately transported to the Mindanao Institute of Technology (MIT) facilitated by a military trucks.
Three other medium size wooden motor launch transporting 523 refugees also docked at Taganak island near the border of the Philippine sea waters to Malaysia.
Aboard the three wooden vessels were 240 men, 132 women, 130 children, and 21 infant, he said.
The evacuees will be transported to this capital town anytime via naval boat, according to Sahali.
Other Filipino Muslims arrived in Tawi-Tawi aboard smaller boats.
Two of them were Jul Ibba, 50, and Gafur Rudjin, 22, both residents of Barangay Tubig, Mampalam in Bongao, where they arrived safe and sound but still shaken by hostilities in Sabah.
Coast Guard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said they were rescued by BRP EDSA II (SARV-002) aboard a boat while conducting maritime patrol at the vicinity 8.4 nautical miles off Omapui Island in Sitangkai.
He described the boat carrying Ibba and Rudjin as painted with blue and yellow stripes and marked with “Love Story” on its hull.
Ibba and Rudjin ran away from their employer in a palm oil refinery in Hanablas, Sabah, after they worked there undocumented for two months.
They said they stole a boat that ferried them from Tulibas, Sabah to Tawi-Tawi.
As this develop, the continues arrival of Filipino refugees in this province, particularly in the island town of Simunul, has led the provincial government officials to adopt high-profile measures to address the needs of the refugees and sites that will serve as their temporary home.
The governor said proper measures have to be adopted to ensure there will be no chaos during the possible influx of Filipinos from nearby Sabah.
Last Friday, Gov. Sahali convened the Provincial Peace and Order Council to address all possible scenarios as a result of the exodus from Sabah.
He asked the police in the province to adopt all applicable security measures to ensure that the lives and properties of the returning Filipinos are safe as he appealed to traders not to unreasonably increase prices of basic commodities.
The province chief executive also directed gas station owners not to hoard fuel supplies. He even appealed to “takal-takal” gas stations or those selling gasoline and diesel using bottles of soft drinks to be reasonable and help prevent chaos.
Prices of basic commodities like rice, sugar, oil, and eggs soared after the Malaysian government imposed a trade embargo on Muslim traders from this province.
The arrival of evacuees from Sabah contributed to the increase in the prices of basic foodstuffs, canned goods, and noodles.
Sahali warned unscrupulous traders that they would be dealt with the full force of the law if they hoard basic foodstuffs and other essential goods.
Pangyan Fatima Celia Kiram, meanwhile, confirmed yesterday that Filipinos are being abused by Malaysian authorities in Sabah.
The wife of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of the Sultanate of Sulu said the sultanate has been receiving reports of these abuses since some years back, particularly starting in 2000 when the Muslim country deported thousands of Filipinos from Sabah.
But Malaysian authorities denied maltreating Filipinos.
However, Pangyan even cited a nephew of the sultan, Dennis Kiram, who worked in Sabah as a tourist guide.
“Dennis was doing well in Sabah as a tourist guide, being well-versed with Malay language,” she recalled, adding his father was the sixth younger brother of the sultan, Datu Aliuddin, who already passed away.
But one day, Dennis was accosted by police who asked for his passport.
When Dennies was unable to show his passport, Pangyan Fatima said they put him in jail where he was maltreated.
Dennis is now in the country, she said.
She added that many who returned from Sabah had approached the sultan and his family members narrating the maltreatment they got.
Prof. Mashur Ghalib bin Jundam, former dean of the Institute of Islamic Studies of the University of the Philippines (UP-IIS), said the people of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan are already fed up with the maltreatment of their relatives in Sabah.
Meanwhile, controversial adviser of the Sultanate of Sulu Pastor Boy Saycon yesterday bared that there is a conspiracy among President Aquino’s men to pin the Sabah crisis to his political enemies in order to protect the good image of the Aquino administration.
In an ambush interview at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) headquarters, Saycon vehemently denied persuading Kiram and his men to pick up their arms and troop to Lahad Datu, Sabah, to assert their authority over the northeast portion of the Borneo island.
He said that the “conspiracy theory” of Malacañang, allegedly the brainchild of Strategic Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang, is nothing but an effort of President Aquino’s media arm to deflect the Sabah issue away from the Aquino administration.
“Wala pong conspiracy. Ang meron is a conspiracy in Malacañang to peddle a fabricated conspiracy story para ilihis yung isyu imbes na pagtuunan ng pansin ang mga namatay na mga kababayan natin,” Saycon stressed. (With reports from Edd K. Usman and Leonard D. Postrado)