Three more Filipinos were killed in Lahad Datu, Sabah, according to military chief Gen. Zulkifeli Zin in a news briefing as reported by Radio Malaysia and monitored by the Inquirer in Digos City, Davao del Sur.
The military chief also said a Malaysian soldier was killed in the encounter with his troops, bringing to nine the number of Malaysian troop fatalities since violence flared in Sabah two weeks ago.
Zulkifeli said that the fatalities included a commander of the Moro National Liberation Front, Haji Musa, who was gunned down on Thursday in a clash in Tanjung Batu village.
In Manila, the Philippines has relayed to Malaysia results of discussions initiated on Monday in Manila on the “disengagement” of armed followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III from Sabah, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced Tuesday.
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez also told reporters that a team from the Philippine Embassy had been able to check on conditions of Filipino workers and their families affected by clashes between the sultan’s followers pressing his claim on Sabah and Malaysian troops that had left more than 60 Filipinos and Malaysians dead.
“We were asked to convey to the Malaysian side this issue of disengagement. The secretary of foreign affairs (Albert del Rosario) was able to convey a clarification regarding this issue and we will be waiting for the response of the Malaysian side on this,” Hernandez said.
“I cannot go into details as of now but this is regarding what Secretary Mar Roxas was talking about with Esmail Kiram,” Hernandez said of the discussions on Monday between the interior secretary and the sultan’s brother.
He did not give a direct answer when asked what role the DFA would play in the disengagement, regarded as a step forward in largely unsuccessful negotiations between the Philippine government and the Kirams a month into the Lahad Datu standoff.
Lack of response
The Philippines also remained optimistic about Malaysia’s friendship despite several unanswered notes verbales the DFA had sent Kuala Lumpur on the Lahad Datu situation.
Hernandez confirmed that Malaysia had yet to respond to the DFA’s request to provide a humanitarian corridor for Filipino noncombatants fleeing the conflict, access of Philippine consular officers to detained followers of the Sulu sultan and crossing of the Philippines’ humanitarian ship from Tawi-Tawi to Lahad Datu.
Asked how the DFA took such a lack of response from Malaysia, Hernandez said: “I would not want to make an analysis of that but for the time being, I would say these requests are still outstanding.”
“We want them to answer and let us know immediately so we can do our job,” he said.
Hernandez said Assistant Foreign Secretary Theresa Lazaro reiterated these appeals to Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Mohd Zamri Mohd Kassim on Sunday.
NGOs assisting Filipinos
Asked how the standoff had affected ties between the Philippines and Malaysia, Hernandez said: “It’s difficult to immediately say that after something like this and we come and make an assessment of the relationship … For now, we can say we have close relations with Malaysia and we want to further enhance this as the years go by.”
Citing a report from the Philippine consular team at Felda Sahabat, Hernandez said some 500 Filipinos evacuated away from the fighting had enough supply of food and received medical assistance from Malaysian nongovernment organizations.
The consular team is currently assessing other needs of the Filipinos, he said.
The DFA has yet to confirm reports of rights abuses against Filipino noncombatants in Lahad Datu by Filipinos who recently returned from Sabah, Hernandez said.
He said Philippine agencies were documenting, validating and confirming such reports, which the Malaysian side already denied through its media.
The DFA earlier asked Malaysia to clarify such reports but like the requests it earlier sent Malaysia on the Sabah situation, had yet to receive a formal reply.
Abigail Valte, Malacañang’s deputy spokesperson, told reporters that initial results of the meeting between Roxas and Esmail Kiram in Camp Crame on Monday were “encouraging.”
“This is a continuation of the President’s objective to still find a peaceful resolution to this particular incident,” she said, but could not elaborate.
Valte said the Department of Social Welfare and Development had so far been unable to corroborate accounts of mistreatment by Malaysian securitymen of Filipino arrivals from Sabah.
But in Zamboanga City, Laisa Alamia, director of the Commission on Human Rights of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, told the Inquirer on Tuesday that more Filipinos who fled Sabah were recounting abuses in the hands of the Malaysians.
“During my talk with them, they recounted how Malaysian security forces brutally handled Filipinos,” she said.
Filipino mothers were separated from their children as Malaysian policemen went on a rampage, she said, adding that 200 children had arrived in Jolo and Bongao without their parents.
“The stories were very disturbing and saddening,” Alamia said.
Asean voice silent
The Davao City-based NGO Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) said Asean should follow the steps of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities in Sabah and the provision of humanitarian aid to those affected by the conflict.
“In this time of need for resolute leadership in our region, we find Asean’s voice markedly silent on Sabah. We feel that it is time for Asean to step up and lead in this time of crisis,” IID executive director Gus Miclat said in a statement Tuesday.—With reports from Michael Lim Ubac and Jerome Aning in Manila; and Julie Alipala and Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao