‘Disengagement’ plan conveyed to Malaysia
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - March 13, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines conveyed to Malaysia yesterday the readiness of the sultanate of Sulu to “disengage” with Malaysian forces in Sabah to prevent further bloodshed.

“Yesterday we were asked to convey a message to the Malaysian side regarding disengagement. The secretary of foreign affairs was able to convey this clarification regarding the issue. We will be waiting for response,” foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a press briefing.

He said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario had contacted Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman to relay the message. The DFA did not provide details.

“The foreign minister needed to consult with relevant authorities after which we can expect a response,” he said.

Hernandez emphasized that the government has been exerting efforts to settle the Sabah issue peacefully as a humanitarian crisis looms due to the influx of refugees from the territory.

“There were some things that needed to be clarified,” he said, referring to the Camp Crame meeting between Secretary Manuel Roxas II of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Sultan Bantilan Esmail Kiram II, a brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

“This is an ongoing initiative on the part of government and we hope that we will be able to avert further loss of lives in Lahad Datu,” he said.

The government has started discussing the Sulu sultanate’s “disengagement” from Sabah to end the violence as reports of human rights violations continue to rise.

The discussions with Esmail reportedly focused on establishing a mechanism for laying down arms by some 300 followers of the sultan still entrenched in Sabah.

Roxas, meanwhile, said Esmail is seeking clarification on the Malaysian prime minister’s earlier pronouncement that Malaysia would stop its offensive only after the sultan’s forces lay down their weapons.

“They didn’t ask for anything. They just want to clarify the details of the statement of the Malaysia prime minister, who will decide on the present situation,” Roxas said in a press conference yesterday.

“Perhaps at this moment, the best way is not to talk or give more details about this very sensitive issue,” Roxas added.

He also said the arrival of refugees from Sabah has not yet reached crisis level.

He said concerned government agencies have linked up to ensure that the needs of Filipinos coming from Sabah to Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu are properly addressed. More than 1,500 undocumented Filipinos have so far voluntarily gone back to Mindanao from Sabah to escape alleged repression by Malaysian authorities.

Citing records from the National Food Authority, Roxas said a total of 13,800 sacks of rice have been delivered to Basilan and 15,201 to Tawi-Tawi. “This is on top of the 15,000 sacks of rice reserved for every use or about 2,500 sacks of rice every day for 366,000 residents in Tawi-Tawi,” he said.

“The directive of the President is to ensure the stability of the people in the area and in the event there will be an influx of evacuees, there will be enough supply of food stuff, medicine and safety of the people,” Roxas noted.

Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said the Department of Labor and Employment and the Bureau of Immigration also assisted the evacuees in securing proper documents, especially those who intend to return to Sabah. She said the evacuees either have no travel and immigration documents or have incomplete work papers.

For its part, the Maritime Industry Authority has alerted commercial vessels in Mindanao to be on standby as they might be required to carry goods and other supplies to remote parts of Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi.Deputy Director General Felipe Rojas of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said they have deployed teams to provide security to the refugees. “The PNP will also assist in securing food warehouses and in maintaining the orderly distribution of relief goods to evacuees,” he added.

Asia America Initiative (AAI), a US-based non-government relief organization, meanwhile pledged to send assistance to displaced Filipinos in Sabah.

AAI president Albert Santoli gave the assurance to Kiram during a visit at his home in Maharlika Village in Taguig.

The initial mission to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi will involve some $50,000 worth of donated food, medicine and hygiene products, Santoli said.


No response yet

Despite the sultanate’s offer of “disengagement,” Malaysia has not yet responded to Philippine requests for access to Filipinos in the custody of Malaysian authorities.

“We are still waiting for Malaysia to grant the request for full access. When we are able to meet them (Filipinos) and find out their condition, we can extend the assistance that they need,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said DFA’s Office of Asia Pacific Affairs Assistant Secretary Teresa Lazaro met on Sunday with the Malaysian ambassador to reiterate the Philippine government’s request.

“They have not cited any reason yet,” he said when asked why Malaysia has not granted the Philippine requests.

“We are hoping they will immediately respond positively. We are hoping Malaysia will immediately act on our request,” he added.

The DFA official said the government has to gather reports of human rights violations allegedly committed against Filipinos by Malaysian authorities.

“First thing we have to do is gather those stories and reports and make sure we are able to validate and confirm those reports before we go to the next step,” he said.

The DFA also said humanitarian/consular teams from the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur have fanned out across Sabah to provide assistance to Filipinos in Lahad Datu and nearby areas.

More cases of rights abuse are expected in Sabah as Malaysian forces are employing tactics used by the US military in Vietnam, according to senior officials of the Moro National Liberation Front.

“These military tactics were a big failure during the Vietnam war and the Malaysian military is committing the same mistake,” an MNLF official said.

He also said Malaysian forces have resorted to hamletting in their crackdown on Filipinos.

Hamletting was a military tactic employed by the US forces in Vietnam to isolate the guerrilla supporters from their civilian sympathizers. – With Jaime Laude, Mike Frialde, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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