Malacañang on Sunday condemned the reported abuses suffered by Filipinos at the hands of Malaysian police in the crackdown on followers of the sultan of Sulu in Sabah.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is verifying the report published by the Inquirer Sunday based on the accounts given by Filipinos fleeing violence sparked by the intrusion of the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III into Sabah.
One refugee, Amira Taradji, spoke of how Malaysian police conducting sweeps of villages in search of the sultan’s followers rounded up Filipino men, made them run as fast as they could, and shot them.
One of the men killed in Sandakan was Taradji’s brother Jumadil.
Even Filipinos with immigration papers were being rounded up and thrown into jails, Taradji said.
Some who tried to avoid arrest by showing their papers were shot, she said.
Seventy-nine people, including Tausug and Orang Suluk (people who originated from Sulu), were rounded up on Friday in police sweeps of villages to flush out supporters of Jamalul’s attempt to retake Sabah from Malaysia.
Thirty-three more, including four women, were arrested Sunday morning on suspicion of abetting the intruders, including providing them with security information.
The Semporna police chief, Firdaus Francis Abdullah, said the suspects, all foreigners, were detained at Bakau.
He did not say if the foreigners were Filipinos, but Bakau has many Filipino residents.
Firdaus said four of those arrested were believed to be intruders.
Malaysian police chief Ismail Omar reported that a teenage boy was shot dead and a man was wounded by security forces in the bushes in the battle zone Sunday.
Omar did not say whether the man and the boy were followers of the Sulu sultan.
Sixty-one people have been killed in fighting since the intrusion led to violence on March 1, including 53 Filipinos and eight Malaysian policemen.
Speaking on state-run dzRB radio on Sunday, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said abuses against Filipinos in Sabah was “unacceptable” to the government.
Valte said Philippine diplomats would talk to the Malaysians about the reported abuses.
She said President Aquino spoke with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on March 2 and received assurance that the rights of the 800,000 Filipinos in Malaysia would be protected.
The DFA began verifying the Inquirer report on Sunday.
In a statement issued Sunday, the DFA said the Malaysian government should clarify the reported abuses.
“If this is true, we will tell them that this should not happen because the safety of all Filipinos in … Sabah is important,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said in interview on dzRB.
Hernandez said the government would appeal to Malaysia to treat Filipinos in Sabah humanely.
He said Malaysia had not responded to a Philippine request for updated information about Filipino casualties in the fighting between Malaysian security forces and followers of Jamalul led by the sultan’s brother Agbimuddin.
The Philippines has asked Malaysia to be given access to 10 sultanate followers who were captured during a police raid on Agbimuddin’s group in Tanduao village in Lahad Datu town on March 1, but the Malaysians have not responded, Hernandez said.
Malaysia also has not responded to the Philippines’ request for permission for a mercy ship to go to Sabah to pick up Filipinos who want to return home, Hernandez said.
Omar declined to comment on the reported police abuses, saying he did not want to dignify the refugees’ claims.
Omar said the police was handling the operation against Jamalul’s followers with professionalism.
Civic and militant groups called for a “humanitarian ceasefire” and urged the government to protest the abuses.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan on Sunday pressed the government to protest the brutal crackdown on Filipinos in Sabah or its silence might be understood as a tacit approval of the Malaysian government’s mail-fisted response to the intrusion.
“The crackdown on Filipino civilians must stop. The abuses must end. The Aquino government should vigorously condemn the atrocities. Aquino himself should speak out against these atrocities. The Department of Foreign Affairs should file a formal protest against Malaysia,” Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes Jr. said.
The reported ordeal of Filipinos in Sabah has prompted at least 93 civil society groups in the Philippines and Malaysia to call for a “humanitarian ceasefire” to ensure the safety of noncombatants in the eastern Malaysian state.
The appeal is addressed to President Aquino, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Jamalul.
The groups also called for the setting up of “safe zones” where humanitarian organizations could help people fleeing from the violence in the territory.
Flight from Sabah
Filipinos have been fleeing the violence in Sabah since Monday last week.
Taradji’s group of about 400 refugees crossed the Sulu Sea in a boat from Sandakan and arrived in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, on Friday.
Three hundred more arrived in Jolo in another boat from Sandakan on Saturday with stories of Malaysian police abuses committed against Tausug residents of Sabah.
The fresh stories tended to confirm Taradji’s report of police brutality.
A female refugee said Tausug suspected of supporting Agbimuddin’s group were not allowed to buy food to prevent help from reaching the intruders, who were believed moving between the villages of Tanduao and Tanjung Batu in pairs or small units.
Sources in Lahad Datu said Malaysian police had been arresting immigrants since the killing of two policemen by Agbimuddin’s group on March 1.
The Philippine Navy on Sunday reported that 400 refugees had been stranded on Taganak Island (Turtle Island) since Saturday night, waiting to be rescued.
Navy Capt. Rene Yongque, commander of Naval Task Force 62, said the refugees, all from Sandakan, reached Philippine waters in wooden boat past 7 p.m. Saturday.
Yongque said the Navy’s vessel Sultan Kudarat had been dispatched to rescue the refugees.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development said it would help the refugees get to Bongao.—With reports from Julie Alipala, Karlos Manlupig, Allan Nawal and Ryan D. Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao; and The Star/Asia News Network