ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Malaysian employers have laid off a number of Filipino workers in Sabah in light of the tensions created by the “homecoming” of the heirs of the sultanate of Sulu and armed members of their “royal army” to press their proprietary claims over the eastern portion of the island, relatives of the workers and local officials in Mindanao said.
Among the first to be laid off was Myrna de la Cruz of Isabela City in Basilan.
Madeline, 18, Myrna’s daughter, said she received a call from her mother early this week to inform her that she was sacked by her Malaysian employer as a laundry attendant in Tawau.
Myrna had been working in Tawau for nearly two decades already before the Lahad Datu stand-off started on Feb. 12, three days after Agbimuddin Kiram, the sultate’s crown prince and younger bother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, and his followers arrived.
“She told me her employer advised her to go home so she would not be implicated in the Lahad Datu situation,” Madeline told the Inquirer by phone.
Ramir Abdulhalil, a 20-year-old college student from Patikul, Sulu, said his father also informed the family he and three other colleagues had lost their jobs last week at an oil palm plantation in Sempornah, also in Sabah.
“The tension in Sabah was the most likely reason for the loss of my father’s job,” Ramir said, adding his father decided to come home instead of trying to find another job there.
The government has said the stand-off in Sabah between Malaysian security forces and the so-called Sulu “royal army” has put the jobs of Filipinos in Malaysia at risk.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II told Manila reporters as early as last week that while the government was trying to help address the tension, brought about by the renewed ownership claim of the heirs of the erstwhile sultanate over Sabah, Malaysian employers might view Filipinos as not trustworthy.
According to government data, about 800,000 Filipinos work in various Malaysian states. Most of them are in Sabah, where they have been tolerated for decades even if they didn’t possess working documents because of the historically close, even familial, ties between Sabahans and residents of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
There were more unverified reports of Filipinos losing their jobs in the wake of the Lahad Datu stand-off, according to Acting Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
If the termination of Filipino employees has indeed become a way for Malaysian employers to show they were standing up for their country and its territory, local officials said a much larger problem lies ahead.
Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan admitted that the provincial government has no means to accommodate those who will be displaced if more Filipinos were sent home by their Malaysian employers.
“There is no job for them here. Many of them did not even have houses here,” Tan said by phone.
He said the influx of jobless Tausugs, many of whom were not even raised here, from Sabah would create a serious problem besides raising local unemployment figures.
“They might contribute to social and peace and order problems in the future,” Tan said.