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Philippine consular teams to stay in Sabah

By: - Day Desk Chief / @umichaelNQ
/ 06:41 PM March 15, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—There is no order from Malacañang to recall Philippine government teams providing consular and humanitarian assistance to Filipinos in Sabah.

“Not true. In fact, we have three teams there attending to the Filipino community,” Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang replied when asked if it was true the government was pulling the teams out.

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They are mostly embassy staff, he said. “Their mandate is to provide consular, medical and counseling services to Filipinos in Sabah.”

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said measures were in place to protect Filipinos in Sabah and provide humanitarian assistance to displaced individuals, who have returned to the Sulu archipelago following a police crackdown on suspected supporters of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III in Sabah.

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“We’re providing assistance to them and laying it all out for the public to know that our main concern is for the 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah,” said Lacierda at a Palace briefing.

“For those also who are currently detained in Sabah under the custody of the Malaysian authorities, we continue to ask for consular access and, also, the reason why the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia has people on the ground in Lahad Datu also,” said Lacierda.

Lacierda told the Inquirer in a separate interview that the Philippine embassy staff had yet to see an undetermined number of Filipinos languishing in Malaysian jails following skirmishes between Malaysian forces and armed followers of the sultan who sailed to Sabah on February 9 and occupied a coastal village in Lahad Datu.

Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman confirmed that Manila had sent a “Rapid Response Team” to Sabah headed by Foreign Undersecretary  Jesus Yabes  and Social Welfare Undersecretary Paris Taradji.

“They are accompanied by our police attaché in the Kuala Lumpur Embassy,” she said, disclosing at a briefing in the Palace that per agreement with Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, the Rapid Response Team of the DFA would be supported by the DSWD Humanitarian Welfare Desk.

The team is augmented by support staff such as Bernard Bonina, a Philippine social welfare attaché based in Malaysia, and DSWD director Ping Shalim.

According to Soliman, the team visited on Wednesday Felda Sahabat, a palm oil plantation located in the village of Kampung Tanduao in Lahad Datu where 451 Filipinos are working.

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At least three evacuation centers have been set up at the plantation, and they are manned by Filipinos, Indonesians and Timuris or local villagers.

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TAGS: Foreign affairs, Sabah claim, Sabah Crisis, Sultan of Sulu
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