DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 March) – The chair of the Regional Human Rights Commission of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (RHRC-ARMM) is appealing for an end to violence in Sabah and to peacefully resolve the issue as reports of alleged human rights violations of Filipinos there are “very alarming.”
“Grabe, grabe ang mga nakita nila” (What they witnessed was very disturbing), Laisa Masuhud Alamia, chair of the month-old RHRC, said of the accounts of Filipinos who arrived in Sulu from Sabah on Thursday and Friday.
Alamia told MindaNews in a telephone interview that based on the accounts of those who fled Sabah, several Filipinos, particularly Tausugs or Suluks as they are known in Sabah, were shot, arrested and tortured and that the victims were not members of the “Royal Security Forces of Sulu and North Borneo” but civilians.
Given the magnitude of the problem, the RHRC has coordinated with social workers of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and other government and non-government responders to help document allegations of human rights violations committed against the paguys, a Tausug term for one who escaped or fled Sabah “without having been arrested, detained and deported through the usual immigration process of Malaysia.”
“This documentation of HRVs will form part of the report to be submitted to the regional and national government for proper action,” she said.
As of Monday noon, the RHRC has recorded a total of 1,191 paguys who arrived — 767 in Tawi-tawi and 424 in Sulu — on board nine boats from Sabah beginning March 6, a day after Malaysia launched aerial and ground attacks to signal the start of “Ops Daulat” (literally Hail to the King but figuratively meaning ‘Uphold Sovereignty”) to flush out of Lahad Datu in Sabah the “Royal Security Forces” of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who is presently based in Taguig City, Metro Manila.
The group, led by the Sultan’s brother, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, arrived in Lahad Datu on February 12 (other reports say February 9) purportedly to assert the claim of the heirs of the Sultanate over Sabah.
Alamia went to Sulu to monitor the paguys’ situation and “document protection issues and any human rights or International Humanitarian Law violations” they may have experienced while in Sabah.
She said the figure 1,191 is not to be confused with the 288 persons on board a commercial ferry who arrived in Zamboanga City on March 2 following their deportation from Sabah and whose deportation had nothing to do with the standoff in Lahad Datu.
Altogether, 1,479 Filipinos had arrived from Sabah since March 2, of whom 288 were through organized deportation and 1,191 through self-deportation.
Alamia said some of the paguys are “self deportees,” among them farmworkers at oil palm plantations there who have no ICs and who immediately boarded the boat upon learning of the crackdown.
An IC is an Identity Card issued to Malaysian citizens and permanent residents for identification, indexing and tracking purposes.
But Alamia reported that some paguys informed them that even those with ICs or passports were not spared, that “when they’re caught, their ICs or passports were torn or destroyed by the Malaysian authorities and they were beaten.”
She noted that a number of the paguys “exhibited reluctance to be interviewed” by DSWD workers providing assistance to them, immediately leaving with their relatives after receiving assistance.
She said they learned that they were “afraid that Philippine authorities would arrest them.”
“Apparently they were referring to pronouncements that members of the Kiram group would be arrested when they come back. They thought this also applies to them,” Alamia said.
She appealed to all parties involved to end the violence and begin the peaceful resolution of the issue, and called on the Malaysian government to “allow the entry into Sabah of the Philippine humanitarian contingent to provide relief to the Filipinos trapped there and to allow them to be brought back to the country.”
DFA to Malaysia
On Sunday, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) asked the Malaysian government to “give humane treatment to the Filipinos under their custody” following “alarming” reports of alleged human rights violations of some Filipinos who arrived in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi from Sabah.
“The allegations are alarming and should be properly and immediately addressed by concerned authorities,” the DFA said in a statement.
Datuk Hamza Taib, Sabah Police Commissioner, according to a report of The Star Online on Monday, denied reports of alleged human rights violations by Malaysian security forces.
“I strongly deny that. They can say anything but the focus of our operation is only in the two areas of Kampung Tanduo and Kampung Tanjung Batu,” he said.
The DFA also reiterated its earlier call on the Malaysian government to give Philippine Embassy officials and the Philippine humanitarian/consular team dispatched to Lahad Datu and nearby areas full access to the Filipinos being held “in several locations in Sabah but outside the ‘Ops Daulat’ area” as announced by the Malaysian Inspector General of the Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar on 08 March 2013, “to enable them to fulfill their mission which is to provide humanitarian and consular assistance to Filipinos who have been affected by the incident.”
End to violence
The DFA had made a similar request to Malaysia on March 1, the same day violence broke out in Lahad Datu, in a note verbale handed over to Dato Mohd Zamri Mohd Kassim, Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines.
As early as February 23, the DFA had informed Malaysia that a ship on humanitarian mission, carrying social workers and personnel, would be dispatched to Lahad Datu to “fetch and ferry back the women and other civilians among the 180-member group who are holed out in Lahad Datu”
As of March 10, Malaysia had yet to respond to the Philippine government’s requests.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon on March 7 called for an end to violence and urged a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Sabah. In response, the Sultanate of Sulu declared a unilateral ceasefire at noon but Malaysia rejected the truce offer in the afternoon.
On March 10, Malaysian authorities claimed 53 members of Kiram’s group and eight policemen had been killed since March 1. The Kirams claimed only 10 of their members were killed and an imam and his four children.
The state-owned news agency, Bernama on Friday reported 79 suspected members and supporters of Kiram were detained under Malaysia’s new security act.
On Sunday, Bernama quoted Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar as saying “96 individuals, suspected to be connected with the Sulu militant group which intruded into Lahad Datu on Feb.12” had been detained.
Also on Sunday, Rep. Teddy Casiño, Makabayan senatorial bet, called on the Malaysia to stop its crackdown on Filipinos in Sabah and respect and uphold international humanitarian law.
“The Malaysian government should respect Filipinos especially civilians in Sabah. We are civilized nations and we should act as such,” Casiño’s press statement said.
“Malaysia is supposed to be our partner is promoting peace in Mindanao but now they are slaughtering our people,” he said.
He called on the United Nations to “step into this crisis before more blood is shed,” adding that dialogue is “the key to settling this dispute and all parties should bring their case on the negotiating table or the International Court of Justice.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)