Government: ‘Brutality’ on Pinoys in Sabah unacceptable

MANILA (Updated) -- Philippine officials have asked the Malaysian government to clarify news reports saying Filipinos in Sabah have been mistreated by authorities amid a crackdown on armed followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III in the area.

Reports said Filipinos in Sabah are being treated "like animals" when Malaysian forces launched a crackdown on Kiram's supporters.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in an interview over dzRB Radyo ng Bayan on Sunday that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will be contacting its Malaysian counterpart to air the concerns, stressing the alleged brutality is "unacceptable."

"We have been receiving these reports (of brutality) from our countrymen who have gone back to different places in the south - there were those who went to Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga - and these reports are unacceptable," she said.

Valte recalled that President Benigno Aquino III asked for humane treatment of Filipinos in Sabah when he had a phone conversation with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak shortly after the March 1 clash between the followers of Kiram and the Malaysian forces.

The clashes erupted days after Kiram’s followers landed in Lahad Datu, Sabah to stake a claim on the resource-rich territory, which they said once belonged to the Sultanate of Sulu.

At least 53 Filipino clansmen and eight Malaysian policemen have died in the conflict, mainly in shootouts. Malaysian police said Saturday they have detained 79 suspects linked to the clansmen.

Sulu-Philippines-Sabah-Malayasia


On Sunday, two policemen were reported injured in gunfights with Kiram’s followers. Authorities said the policemen were shot by gunmen in overnight skirmishes.

Authorities said they are concentrating efforts to hunt down the armed Filipinos holed up in Kampung Tanjung Batu and Kampung Tanduo by launching airstrikes and sifting them out house-to-house.

Malaysian police said some of Kiram’s followers were found to be posing as civilians.

But DFA, in a statement, said it viewed with "grave concern" the alleged rounding up of community members of Sulu/Tausug descent in Lahad Datu and other areas in Sabah and the alleged violations of human rights reported in the media.

"The allegations are alarming and should be properly and immediately addressed by concerned authorities," the statement said.

There was no immediate reaction from Malaysian officials.

The DFA said it is coordinating with the Department of Social Welfare and Development and other relevant agencies to document these reports so that appropriate actions could be taken.

The agency also reiterated a call Sunday for Malaysia to give Philippine diplomats full access to Filipinos who are being held outside an area where Malaysian forces have staged the crackdown against the Filipino clansmen.

This would enable the Filipino officials to fulfill their mission, which is to provide humanitarian and consular assistance to Filipinos who have been affected by the incident, the DFA said.

Some Filipinos who fled from Sabah said they witnessed the brutality being committed by the Malaysian police against some Filipinos during their crackdown operations after the March 1 encounter that left 18 people dead.

Malaysian police refuted these reports, however, saying the Filipinos in Sabah were not abused.

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Saturday echoed a call by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to ensure the protection of civilians and for humanitarian access to help those affected by the violence.

Malaysia should provide accurate information on what has transpired and either charge or release dozens of suspects detained under a new security law, said Human Rights Watch's Asia deputy-director, Phil Robertson. (SDR/With AP/PNA/Sunnex)
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