FREEDOM .... A police sweep of the Filipino community in Sandakan drove its residents into 'extreme fear' forcing them to escape into the night boarding whatever available boat that would take them. An initial wave of 400 evacuees from Sabah arrived in Sulu on Friday. A thousand more are expected in the next few days.
By : JULIE ALIPALA AND KARLOS MANLUPIG
ZAMBOANGA CITY : "They dragged all the Orang Suluk Sabahan Filipinos males outside the house, kicked and hit them,” Amira Taradji said as she recounted her family’s ordeal in Sandakan that started when Malaysian security forces began cracking down on suspected supporters of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of Sulu.
Interviewed by phone from Patikul, Sulu, shortly after she arrived there Friday night with about 200 other refugees, Taradji, 32, claimed that Malaysian policemen would order Filipino men to run as fast as they could and would then gun them down. Among those killed that way on Monday night during what she described as a zoning operation in a Filipino community in Sandakan was her brother, Jumadil, Taradji said.
Taradji, originally from Calinan in Davao City, is among some 400 people who have arrived in Sulu from such places in Sabah as Lahad Datu, Sempornah, Tawau and Kunak since the start of the week as violence triggered by a “homecoming” expedition to the east Malaysian state by followers of Kiram escalated.
Officials said there are now close to a thousand refugees from Sabah in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Hundreds more have arrived in smaller Philippine island near Sabah and many more Filipinos are expected to make the sea crossing, officials said. The Inquirer reached Taradji by phone through the help of a Sulu local official shortly after she arrived in Patikul on a commercial vessel from Sabah late Friday.
Taradji said the constant raid on houses by Malaysian security forces was particularly dreadful for both Filipinos and Orang Suluk, as Sabahans who originated from Sulu are known.
Aside from the police abuse she said she witnessed in Sandakan, Taradji said Filipinos she encountered before leaving Sabah said they too had witnessed Filipino men being rounded up in Tawau and Kunak.
Some of the arrested men, who tried to dissuade the police from arresting them by waving immigration documents, were killed just the same for trying to evade the raiders, she said.
“Some of those arrested did not see jail because they were shot and killed by Malaysian Police,” Taradji said.
Those who were jailed were not doing very well either because Malaysian authorities were allegedly starving them to death.
“Even if you have valid immigration document, you will not be spared. If you are lucky to reach the jail, you will die of starvation because they will not feed you,” Taradji said.
Taradji had lived in Sandakan since she was six years old and is the holder of “Mykad,” a type of identification card issued to Malaysian citizens and permanent residents.
She said that although she and here family were Mykad holders, they hastily abandoned their home when Malaysian policemen started arriving Monday night.
She said she saw how those caught during the raid suffered at the hands of Malaysian policemen.
“We sailed from Sandakan to nearby islands—from one island to another—until we reached a small island where we took a kumpit for the Philippines. We begged hard so they would allow us to ride one of the kumpits,” she recounted.
Carla Manlaw, 47, said it was fear of the Malaysian policemen following stories of the abuse and killings that prompted her and other Filipinos to sail to Bongao in Tawi-Tawi.
Manlaw and 99 others, including children and the elderly, arrived in Philippine waters aboard two motorboats after sailing for about two hours from Sandakan. They were intercepted and escorted by a Philippine Navy ship until they reached Bongao late Friday. “My employer has no problem with having a Filipino employee. But what bothered me was the police,” she said.
Manlaw said the other Filipinos who sailed with her were afraid of “what they will do to us.”
Manlaw said when she heard that a vessel was returning to Bongao from Sandakan, she immediately grabbed her things and boarded it.
Mayor Hussin Amin of Jolo, Sulu, said the accounts of abuses by Malaysian policemen were so “alarming and disturbing” that the national government should already look into them.
He said he had spoken with a lot of evacuees and the stories were the same: Malaysian soldiers and policemen were not making any distinction between illegal immigrants and those issued Mykad cards.
“Malaysian Soldiers and Malaysian policemen stormed their houses and even those with legitimate working papers like passports and IC papers were not spared. These documents were allegedly torn down before their eyes. Men were told to run and were shot if they did. Those who refused were beaten black and blue. Filipinos inside the jail were executed,” Amin said as he recounted what the evacuees told him.
“We are asking our government to investigate now. Refugees from Sandakan and Sabah share [the same] ordeals. If indeed what they have been telling us is true, then Malaysian authorities were not just targeting the Kirams in Lahad Datu,” Amin said by phone late Friday.
He said for now, he tended to believe the stories told by the fleeing Filipinos that Filipino men—Tausug especially—were being killed on the streets and in detention centers in Malaysia.
“Our people are treated like animals there and this has to stop because they are no longer hitting the Kirams,” Amin said. Amin said one his reasons for believing the stories was his observation that children and women “are deeply traumatized seeing our police personnel inspecting them.”
He said that during processing of some evacuees who arrived in Jolo this week, he saw how “some even attempted to jump off to the sea, thinking they were still in Malaysia.”
“I spoke to them and gave them assurance that they were all home and no one will ever harm them now and the policemen securing the port were not Malaysians but Filipinos protecting them,” Amin said.
Social welfare officials, who spoke to the Inquirer on condition of anonymity, said they anticipated that more than a thousand Filipinos from Sabah will be arriving within the next few days.
One official said the sheer number of the expected returnees “will pose a problem” greater than what the 2002 deportation of Filipinos by Malaysian authorities caused.
That year, some 64,000 Filipinos were forced out of Sabah due to lack of documents and feeding or relocating them proved to be a nightmare for officials.
Amirah Lidasan of the militant group Suara Bangsamoro said she pitied women and children who had to endure uncertainty at sea just to escape the Sabah violence. (Inquirer Mindanao)
(NOTE : At least 3 representatives of the International Court of Justice ICJ arrived in Sabah but were allegedly denied access to the area where operations are ongoing against the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, the sultan's camp said on Saturday).