‘Even women, children targeted in Sabah’

The Philippine Star

DAVAO CITY , Philippines – Tawi-Tawi has been overwhelmed by refugees who have fled Sabah amid horror stories of Malaysian forces targeting even pregnant women and children in a security crackdown.

Small boats have been docking in Tawi-Tawi, loaded with refugees fleeing the crackdown.

A worker who asked not to be named said even pregnant women and children who were long-time residents of Sabah have been hunted down and killed as the Malaysians fire mortars and embark on a house-to-house search to flush out supporters of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

Residents have fled on any boat available, even on traditional wooden lepa, used by Badjaos in the Sabah town of Semporna, the worker said.

The increasing flood of refugees from Sabah is turning into a humanitarian crisis in Tawi-Tawi. The provincial government has appealed for help from the national government to provide food, medicine and other needs for the refugees.

Malacanang said the alleged human rights violations perpetrated by the Malaysian police and military on non-combatants caught in the crossfire in Sabah are “unacceptable.”

The worker, who is among the refugees, told The STAR that Malaysian forces were targeting members of the Tausug tribe. Members of the Sulu sultanate are mainly Tausugs.

“They have been rounding up Tausugs. Either they kill them or they imprison them,” the worker said.

Malaysian forces reportedly dragged the men out of their homes in Sabah, then kicked and beat them. Jumadil Taradji was told to make a run for it, and when he did so, he was shot dead, according to his sister Amira.

“This kind of treatment on our Filipino citizens or Filipino nationals is unacceptable,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told radio station dzRB.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) expressed “grave concern” over the reports of human rights violations.

“The department urges the Malaysian government to take steps to clarify these alleged incidents. The allegations are alarming and should be properly and immediately addressed by concerned authorities,” the DFA said.

It is still waiting for the Malaysian government to give Philippine embassy officials and Filipino humanitarian teams in Lahad Datu and nearby areas full access to the Filipinos being held in several locations in Sabah but outside the zone of armed conflict.

Valte said “notes verbale” were sent to the Malaysian government precisely to seek humane treatment for the sultan’s supporters.

She said reports of extrajudicial killings of Filipinos “will have to be validated,” adding that the treatment of Filipinos “certainly will be the subject of the discussion of the DFA and their Malaysian counterparts.”

Thousands of Filipinos have fled Sabah after clashes escalated following a three-week standoff between the followers of the sultanate and Malaysian forces.

Tawi-Tawi Vice Gov. Ruby Sahali called on the national government to help the evacuees. She pointed out that even Tawi-Tawi residents are running out of rice.

Over 1,000 evacuees have so far arrived, in separate batches, at the country’s nearest entry points from Sabah.

The latest batch of 512 evacuees reportedly arrived on Turtle Island, also called Taganak, on Saturday night. Sahali said there were more refugees than residents on the island and the food supply was good only until breakfast yesterday. Tawi-Tawi residents purchase rice and other food supplies in Sabah.

Taganak Mayor Mibaral Tang said the 512 included 254 men, 122 women including pregnant and lactating mothers, and 136 children.

Tang said some children were sick due to exposure to the elements during their sea travel.

The evacuees from Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Sempornah and Tawau in Sabah are also flooding into the Tawi-Tawi islands of Sibutu and Simunul.

‘Act now to prevent deaths’

Catholic bishops based in Mindanao said even if the government is against the means used by the Sulu sultanate in pressing proprietary claims over Sabah, the government must act now to prevent more deaths.

“More than merely telling Filipinos to get out of Sabah, government leaders should do more for the sake of life and peace,” they said in their appeal.

The appeal was signed by Bishops Guillermo Afable (Digos), Colin Bagaforo (Cotabato), Antonieto Cabajog (Surigao), Jose Cabantan (Malaybalay), Edwin de la Peña (Marawi), Elenito Galido (Iligan), Dinualdo Gutierrez (Marbel), Martin Jumoad (Isabela), Angelito Lampon, OMI (Jolo), Julius Tonel (Ipil), George Rimando (Davao), Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ (Cagayan de Oro), Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, OMI (Cotabato), Archbishop Romulo Valles (Davao) and Msgr. Cris Manongas (Zamboanga).

The prelates said they are counting on government leaders from both sides to “demonstrate wisdom and statesmanship in preventing further bloodshed and resolving the basic issues that resulted in tragedy.”

 â€œWe pray for all the casualties, both Filipino and Malaysian, in the conflict. We pray for their grieving families,” the bishops said as they urged Aquino to support the appeal of the United Nations for an immediate end to the violence.

Earlier, more than 200 evacuees arrived in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi’s capital town, and in the town of Simunul, an hour’s boatride from the provincial center.

Sahali said they are expecting the exodus to continue in the next few days. She said the provincial government could only accommodate a little over a thousand evacuees, as she noted that some unscrupulous individuals have started taking advantage of the situation.

 â€œThese people claim to be from non-government organizations and other private groups. They go around Bongao to ask for donations from businessmen,” she said.

She clarified that her father, Gov. Sadikul Sahali, has never allowed anyone to ask for donations using his name or office.

“What we are using now for these evacuees comes from the provincial calamity fund. If the number of evacuees here goes beyond 5,000, we can no longer handle it,” she said. -- With Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores, Rainier Allan Ronda, John Unson



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