ZAMBOANGA CITY—An estimated 100,000 Filipinos in Sabah are expected to flee to the Philippines by May, according to a government “worse case scenario” following an incursion by supporters of the sultan of Sulu in February and a subsequent crackdown by Malaysian forces in the area.
The figure was based on the number of documented and undocumented Filipinos in Sabah, according to the Crisis Management Committee (CMC) under the Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DSWD-ARMM).
In March, 5,000 arrivals were recorded in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi from Sabah. The number does not include those who did not register with the DSWD because they still want to return to Sabah and live there when things settle down, according to a CMC member who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak to the media.
The source said there were 57,000 documented Filipino residents in Sabah with 95,000 dependents, and another 550,000 were undocumented.
“We may expect 100,000 to arrive by May, especially if Malaysia grants our government’s request to give amnesty to the undocumented residents in Sabah,” the source said.
Evacuees are expected from Lahad Datu, Semporna, Sandakan, Labuan, Tawau, and even in Sabah’s capital Kota Kinabalu, where there are about a thousand undocumented Filipino workers who have expressed their desire to return to Mindanao.
According to the DSWD-ARMM website, of the expected returnees, 46,000 are natives of Sulu, 41,000 are from Tawi-Tawi, 7,000 from Basilan, 3,000 from Zamboanga City, and 3,000 from other provinces and regions throughout the country.
The CMC said it had drawn up an emergency response plan and a recovery and rehabilitation program for the returnees.
“These include assistance for food, transportation, temporary shelter, and other recovery and rehabilitation assistance such as livelihood, counseling and the like,” the CMC said.
More than 30 Navy ships deployed
Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, the visiting chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said in Zamboanga yesterday that the naval blockade in the Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi areas would remain as part of the Philippines’ security precautions.
More than 30 Navy ships have been deployed in the area since members of the so-called “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” arrived in Lahad Datu town in Sabah on Feb. 9 to renew the sultanate’s long dormant claim over a part of Borneo Island.
Bautista presided over a command conference at the Western Mindanao Command which discussed the possible influx of returnees from Sabah.
“It could also be a security concern. For one, there could be armed people who might mix with the evacuees,” said Brig. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, the AFP deputy chief of staff for operations.
Baladad said aside from this, the military would also begin its preparations to assist in the humanitarian efforts of the government for the evacuees, such as transporting goods and people.
Asked about the possibility of the sultanate’s supporters taking up their fight for Sabah in Mindanao, Baladad said this was “one concern we are looking into.”
“We have been hearing about these concerns that is why the military has initiated dialogues with people in the communities. The soldiers in the field are conducting the dialogues where they impart the message that the government is doing everything it could to resolve this issue,” Baladad said.
Also on Tuesday, a Sabah-based radio station monitored in Davao City reported that eight more people—seven Filipinos and a Malaysian police corporal—had been charged under Malaysia’s security law in connection with the incursion in February.
Eight Filipinos were earlier charged in the Tawau high court. At least 122 people have been arrested and more than 60 people killed in the aftermath of the Malaysian crackdown in Sabah. With a report from Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao
Originally posted: 8:47 pm | Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013