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.