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5,000 Filipinos languishing in Malaysian jail–ARMM exec

/ 11:50 AM August 10, 2011

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—An estimated 5,000 Filipinos are languishing in various detention facilities in Sabah and other Malaysian states after they were arrested for “illegal entry,” according to an official of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Naguib Sinarimbo, ARMM executive secretary, said he discovered this fact during a visit with seven other ARMM officials to the east Malaysian state recently.

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He said the figure was just “an estimate” but it showed the nagging “cycle of arrest and detention” of undocumented Filipinos in Sabah.

“An estimated 5,000 undocumented Filipinos, who slipped through the so-called southern backdoor in Mindanao, are now languishing in different detention cells in Sabah and other Malaysian territories,” Sinarimbo said.

He said his delegation and Malaysian Parliament Speaker Seri Utama Pandikar Amin Bin Haji Mulia agreed that the issue of “halaws” (rejected, as the jailed Filipinos are referred to), should be addressed by the Philippine government, through the ARMM, and Malaysia.

Sinarimbo said he proposed the use of “cultural link,” a “non-political” solution, to address the problem.

Muslim Filipinos share common ancestry with Malays in Sabah. Mulia himself traces his roots to the Iranun tribe of Maguindanao, Sinarimbo said.

“The influential Malaysian leader acceded to the proposal, saying an intensive revival of cultural linkage between Mindanao and Kuala Lumpur could resolve the plight of hundreds of Filipinos sneaking into Sabah and later ending up arrested or deported as ‘halaws’,” Ali Macabalang, ARMM’s information chief, said.

Halaw is a Malaysian term for “rejected” or “unwanted.”

Sinarimbo and Speaker Mulia initially agreed that the ARMM government should push through with its plan to open a “one stop” center in Tawi-Tawi to provide passport and other official documents for Filipinos bound for Sabah or other parts of Malaysia for employment or trade.

But some ARMM officials said the idea of putting up even a “desk” in Sabah to facilitate the documentation of Filipinos working or staying illegally in Malaysia would signify a waiver of the Philippines’ claim over the territory.

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Sinarimbo said because the problem on “halaws” could not be resolved overnight, he was hoping that the issue would become one of the priorities of incoming officials, when the term of current ARMM officials expire on September 30.

President Benigno Aquino III said he will announce who will serve as ARMM officers-in-charge anytime soon.

The appointment of OICs was in connection with the resetting of the regional poll to 2013 from this year.

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