Social Welfare chief assures aid to Sulu army, refugees-A A +A
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
DEPARTMENT of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Corazon Soliman assured Friday they are extending aid to families of followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who traveled to Malaysia to assert their claim on Sabah.
Soliman, who was in Baguio City on Friday for program review and beneficiaries’ dialogue of the Conditional Cash Transfer program, said their regional office at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Zamboanga Peninsula Region are helping families left by the Sulu Sultanate’s followers, including Filipinos who have migrated out of Sabah back to the country to escape the ongoing hostilities there.
She said a “humanitarian corridor” was opened knowing families left in the country by the Sultanate’s sympathizers are now in need of aid as most of those who went to Malaysia to fight are breadwinners of their families.
“The culture of the people there dictates that men provide for their families. Although they are not the only ones working we do understand their families are now in need of food,” she said.
The government opened assistance centers in Simunul and Sibutu, Tawi-Tawi including other social welfare offices in Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga peninsula.
Among those given aid are an estimated 100 identified families of leaders who headed to Lahad Datu town in Sabah.
“We talked to the wife of Raja Muda Kiram who also identified the families whose members went to Lahad Datu,” Soliman said.
Provisions for the families given include one sack of rice, canned goods and P3,000 cash per family.
“The President (Benigo Aquino III) asked that these families be taken cared of because it is our mandate to provide for their basic survival and also as a humanitarian act,” Soliman said.
She assured government will continue giving aid until the situation stabilizes. The DSWD has also been conducting counseling sessions to family members who continue to worry for the safety of their loved ones.
“That is why we are making this known to show to people that we are doing something,” she said.
Despite government’s surprise over the drastic moves of the Sultan’s followers to claim their rights to Sabah, she said, they are very concerned with the current relations of the country with the Malaysian government.
Aside from Kiram’s followers, some 289 families have also been deported from Sabah to Zambaoanga City, which according to Soliman, is not due to the ongoing hostilities in Lahad Datu but is regularly being done by the Malaysian government especially on undocumented Filipinos there.
She said these undocumented Filipinos have been held in custody for as long as one month to nine months by immigration officials in Sabah until their deportation last week.
Another form of migration noted by social welfare officials in the country’s border with Malaysia are those riding kumpits or pump boats back to islands of Tawi-Tawi and in Siasi, Sulu which are just an hour away by sea from Sabah.
She said at least two pump boats have been recorded since Friday to leave the ongoing skirmishes in Sabah for safety back in the country. The secretary admitted many Filipinos have been accustomed to visiting Sabah to visit family members or seek job opportunities without documents.
“We have to let them realize that it’s another country and they will need passports and supporting documents before they could travel,” she said.
A social welfare attaché and Department of Foreign Affairs team are now in Sabah assisting Filipinos who wish to go home to the country.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 12, 2013.