Filipinos fleeing Sabah endure ‘violent crackdown’ by Malaysian forces
BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi—Filipinos, who had fled Sabah in the aftermath of the armed intrusion there by the Sulu “royal army,” had learned to endure the pains of being violently beaten by Malaysian security forces during crackdowns on suspected Sabah-based supporters of the sultanate’s men just to stay alive, survivors had claimed.
As this developed, the Malaysian Attorney General announced that an investigation has started on the claims of witnesses and supposed survivors of the police’s excesses in Sabah under Ops Daulat (sovereignty).
“I did not run when they ordered me to run because I know they will shoot me. What I did was to bear the pain when they hit me,” 38-year old Ibrahim Alih, a Sama native from Zamboanga City, told the INQUIRER here, where he was being processed by government agencies before sending him home.
Alih, who was rounded up for failing to present immigration documents during Monday last week’s sweep on his neighborhood in Sandakan, said he did not care even if blood was already coming out of his wounds because he knew it was safer for him to just submit to the beating.
When he noticed that the Malaysian forces appeared to be hell bent on beating him to death, Alih said he shouted: “I’m not a Tausug, I’m a Sama Badjao.”
Upon hearing this, the Malaysian forces allegedly stopped from hurting him but they still frisked him and took the RM700 he earned from being a carpenter in Sabah for the past four months.
He was then allowed to board ML Fatima Editha – along with hundreds of other Filipinos trying to find a space on the crammed boat – for this province.
Alih said he wished he had not been illegally working in Sabah because a valid document might have saved him from harm.
“I don’t even have a passport,” he lamented.
Twenty-year old Sherilyn Viado, who worked in a construction company in Sabah, said she too had to assert her ethnicity when Malaysian policemen prepared to gang up on her.
“I told them that I’m not a Tausug but a Badjao,” she said, adding that Malaysian security forces were singling out people from Sulu or Sabahans known as Suluk (people who originated from Sulu).
“If you’re a Tausug, you will surely land in jail even if you had valid papers,” Viado, a native of Zamboanga del Sur, said.
Viado said Malaysian forces were so angry at Tausugs and Suluks that they do not put distinction between males and females anymore.
“We saw on TV how they beat Tausugs, including women,” she claimed.
Viado said Tausugs or Suluks who had disappeared from her neighborhood had not resurfaced since their arrest “and the lack of information on their fate had sowed unimaginable degree of fear on us.”
Annang Im, 50, who tended a small sidewalk store in Sandakan, said she did not experience being abused but she saw how male Filipinos caught up during the sweeps had been made to physically suffer by Malaysian policemen.
Im, a Tausug-Visaya, also confirmed Viado’s claim that Malaysian security forces hated Tausugs and Suluks so much that they did not care even if suspects were killed during the sweeps.
“It is because of what the Kirams did in Lahad Datu,” she said.
Sabah police commissioner Hamza Taib had confirmed that the campaign against Sabah-based “collaborators” was continuing but maintained that policemen never violated the rights of the suspects.
“The reports of abuses were so dramatic but where did they took place? I am not aware of any incident in the entire Sabah area where people had been beaten or killed on mere suspicions of being terrorists or supporters of terrorists.
He also confirmed that 10 more people – who were either Filipino or have Filipino descent – had been arrested during separate raids on Thursday over suspicions of collaboration with the “Sulu terrorists.”
Malaysian Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail said the fresh arrests had brought the number of detained suspects to 216 as of late Friday.
Hamza said two of the suspects— both in their 40s—were arrested by police authorities in Bukit Aman in Semporna around 8 p.m. Thursday, while the eight others were collared as they tried to enter the operation area in Lahad Datu on a speedboat past midnight, also on the same day.
Hamza said the two suspects with Filipino ancestry were taken in for questioning during a sweep of Bukit Aman, following information they were “collaborators or might have even been involved in the March 2 ambush in Kampung Simunul.”
Hamza said later that evening, policemen in Lahad Datu arrested eight more men—all Filipino—who had no identification or immigration documents, as they tried to dock in Kampung Sungai Bilis.
He said a check on the speedboat uncovered a stash of peso bills, “totaling P369,000 and 300 jerrycans (water containers).”
“No weapons were found but we wondered what they were doing there with huge amount of money and lots of jerrycans,” Hamza said.
He said the men, some as young as 17, were now being investigated under Malaysia’s Security Offenses and Special Measures Act (Sosma) and immigration laws.
Hamza said the sweep against suspected supporters of the Sulu “terrorists” was continuing.
Reacting to an earlier statement by former Sabah Chief Minister Harris Salleh that he was alarmed by reports of police abuses under Ops Daulat (sovereignty), Hamza said he was not aware of any excesses committed by the Malaysian police since the crackdown started.
“We arrested them humanely and sent them to jail for investigation,” he said.
But even then, Patail announced in a statement that an investigation into the reported abuses has started and those complaining of such excesses will be assisted by the Malaysian Bar and the Sabah Law Association.
“If the investigation showed there had indeed been abuses, the persons involved will be charged accordingly,” Abdul Gani said in a statement sent to Bernama, the state media group.
In his written statement read by an anchor of another Sabah station known for its scathing anti-Najib commentaries on Wednesday, Harris said he had written Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and asked him to order the police to stop their unlawful actions against the Suluk population in Semporna and Lahad Datu.
Harris said Suluk leaders had sought his help to make the appeal because they could no longer tolerate the abuses.
“These Suluk leaders reported that (the) police are taking away Identity Cards, Red Identity Cards and the IMM13 documents (of the Suluk people) and destroy them,” he said.
Harris, giving credence to the claims of the Suluk leaders he did not identify, said the abuses were “unbecoming of a Malaysian police force.”
“This behavior is against (any law)…, be it religious or the laws and policies of the Malaysian government,” Harris quoted what he told Hishamuddin.
He also reminded Hishamuddin that the “police have no power to destroy any Federal Government document” unless they had been ordered to do so by the National Registration Department.
He warned that the abuses could eventually “create hostility between Sabah and the Suluk people,” whom he described as the “original inhabitants of Sabah.”
If this happens, he said nearby Malaysian areas would also suffer.
“Fortunately, West Malaysia (where Putrajaya, Malaysia’s center of government; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, are located) is far away from the Suluk areas,” Harris said.
He also urged the police to stop targeting an individual on the basis of being a Suluk because not all of them were “bad.”
But even if a Suluk or anybody was bad, Harris said the police should always deal with them as “any other human being.”
He said in the case of the Sulu invaders, they are “not in their civil minds” and appear to have been possessed by “witch (read: evil) that the best way to deal with them is through negotiations and not by threatening them.
“Just like when a person is on the verge of jumping from the 10th floor,” he said.
Harris said Putrajaya should understand that the sultanate of Sulu only took a drastic action because its previous efforts to settle the Sabah dispute with Prime Minister Najib Razak had repeatedly failed.
“Their intention was just to settle the outstanding claim once and for all,” he said.
Abdul Gani said even before the investigation could wrap up, he was confident that Malaysian security forces had not targeted people just because they belonged to a specific ethnic group.
“I acknowledge that there have been some immigrants who were apprehended during Ops Daulat.
However, the ancestry of those apprehended was purely incidental,” he said.
In Kelantan, the state-run Radio 24 on Friday reported that Najib defended Putrajaya’s decision to take head on the “invaders of Sabah” and tear down their support among Sabah immigrants and locals.
Najib was quoted as saying nobody should question Malaysia’s handling of the Sabah incident because it did not violate international or religious laws.
“Malaysia was on the side of the truth in defending the country’s sovereignty from the terrorists. The Government is most careful in the matter and about what we are doing,” Najib was quoted as telling supporters during a lunch he hosted after attending Friday prayers in Tanah Merah in Kelantan on Friday.
He was also reported to have said that under any Islamic law, Malaysia was not liable because it repeatedly gave the “terrorists” opportunity to get out of Sabah without harm. Nothing in the international law could also prevent Malaysia from defending its territory.
“We did not want bloodshed, we did not want lives lost but we were attacked and we had to defend ourselves,” he was quoted as further telling supporters.
Najib also earlier said that Malaysia will prosecute people, who will belittle the government’s efforts to curb the violence regardless of their political affiliations.
The Anwar Ibrahim-led Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), said Najib and the dominant political party, United Malays National Organization (Umno), was only trying to find an excuse to stifle the opposition.
On Friday, the PKR propaganda machine, Suara Keadilan, reported on its website that policemen raided its office near Kuala Lumpur.
Suara Keadilan – which also maintains a radio station – said the policemen from Johor Baru told its staff that they will be confiscating computers “used to upload” a “seditious” statement issued by PKR vice president Tian Chua that Umno was “behind the Lahad Datu intrusion.”
Suara Keadilan said its staff had successfully prevented the policemen from taking any computer away after they told them to contact lawyer Latheefa Koya before they did so.
The opposition’s information machine said the policemen then sought its reporter, who had interviewed Tian over the alleged Umno links to the Sabah crisis.
On Thursday, Tian was also formally charged over his “seditious statement” at the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur.
Tian denied he had accused Umno of plotting the Sabah invasion as reports had it, allegedly to divert the attention of, and intimidate Sabahans to support the Barisan Nasional – the national political coalition that Umno heads— during the July general elections.
He also denied accusations he had insinuated that Umno politicians had conspired to stage the Sabah “drama” to steer the voters’ attention from the controversial issuance of identity cards to foreigners on the said state.
Many foreigners— including Filipinos— had acquired Mykad, or the IDs issued to Malaysian citizens and permanent residents, due to the support of Malaysian politicians, including then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
In a statement published by Suara Keadilan, Tian described the charge as “politically motivated” and added he was ready to face “this slander to clear my name.”
If found guilty, the opposition leader might spend up to three years in jail aside from the maximum fine of RM5,000 (about P65,000).
But even before he was found guilty, Tian already had to shell out RM5,000 in bail before he was released from police custody because Judge Mohamad Sekeri Mamat would not hand him over to his lawyer on a custodial guarantee.