Filipino Muslims shout slogans during a prayer rally in Taguig, Metro Manila on March 6, 2013. Fleeing Filipinos from Sabah now say that have endured years of torture and sexual abuse while in the state. — Reuters pic
KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — The ongoing armed conflict in Sabah appears to have opened a can of worms for Malaysia as hundreds of Filipino immigrants, now back in their homeland, are recounting horror tales of torture and sexual abuses inflicted for years on their community here.
Bantilan Esmail II, a brother of Sulu “Sultan” Jamalul Kiram III, said the stories did not even surprise him as Malaysian authorities have allegedly been abusing Filipinos in Sabah long before the Sulu incursion began.
Esmail, who is in talks with the Philippine government over a possible pullout of the Sulu “army” in Sabah, said that while the alleged abuses were “un-Islamic”, they were common knowledge in the Philippines.
“They have been treating the Filipinos there not as human beings. What they are doing is un-Islamic and are acts of non-believers of Islam,” he said in a report in The Philippine Daily Inquirer today.
Malaysian security forces and a group of armed followers of the Kiram clan have been locked in gunbattles since March 1 in the coastal district of Sabah’s Lahad Datu, where the Sulu Sultanate’s army had landed to lay claim over the east Malaysian state.
The fierce gunfights have so far claimed the lives of 63 individuals, including 54 Sulu gunmen, eight Malaysian policemen and one teenage boy, and spurred thousands of Filipinos living in Sabah to flee back to their homeland out of fear of capture.
According to the media in the Philippines, more than 1,000 Filipinos have already left their homes in Sabah, many of whom are MyKad holders, carrying with them horror tales of abuse and arbitrary killings during raids by Malaysian authorities to hunt down Sulu sympathisers.
The Inquirer carried an interview last weekend with a 32-year-old Filipino named Amira Taradji who alleged that her brother had been killed at the hands of the Malaysian police during their rounding-up of suspected supporters.
“They dragged all the males outside the house, kicked and hit them,” she told the daily in a phone call from Patikul, Sulu, shortly after she arrived in the Philippines last Friday night along with some 200 other refugees.
Taradji claimed that Malaysian security forces stormed villages in the coastal constituency of Sandakan where she was staying on Monday night, and in the ordeal, her brother Jumadil was allegedly gunned down after he was forced by the police to run as fast as he could.
Like Esmail, Taradji’s abuse claim was similarly described as old news and just the “tip of the iceberg”, the Manila Bulletinreported today, quoting an official of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The source said Filipinos in Sabah, particularly those who were undocumented migrants, have always been complaining of abuse but no attention has ever been paid to their claims.
“Finally, the sufferings of Filipinos in Sabah drew notice from Malacañang. We got similar, if not harsher, complaints directly from victims and made appropriate reports to higher authorities to no avail years ago,” the official reportedly said.
The source alleged that local Filipino journalists have on occasion even exposed some documented abuses but these stories were suppressed by the mainstream media, out of deference to Malaysia’s brokering of peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The Manila Bulletin reported that the ARMM’s Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Department of Labor and Employement (DOLE) have been receiving many reports since 2011 of abuses ranging from alleged torture of males to sexual attacks on females in Malaysian detention centres in Sabah.
The report said that some victims, who were caught for lacking valid travel documents, have even confirmed the cases of three Filipino women who were impregnated in jail.
The Sulu incursion, however, appears to have sparked even more abuses.
Reports have reached the Kiram clan that Malaysians of Tausug descent are being singled out in the operations and brutalised at the hands of the police, including those who held MyKads.
The Tausug are also known as Suluks, who come from Sulu in the Philippines.
“[The Malaysians] claim they are enforcing maximum tolerance, but there’s no truth to that. Instead, maximum violence is what’s happening. Even women, pregnant women and children are being fired upon by Malaysian forces,” Jamalul’s daughter, “princess” Jacel Kiram, was quoted as saying in a report last weekend.
The Sultanate’s spokesman, Abraham Idjirani, claimed that a pregnant woman, who was rounded up during the operation, even went into labour while under arrest in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, where the Sulu army’s hideout was at the time.
“The pregnant woman gave birth at the police station, but the newborn died shortly after… People are being manhandled by the police,” Idjirani said, according to the Manila Standard today.
“They are arresting not only Filipinos and supporters of the sultanate, but also rounding up even their own citizens.”
Malaysia has so far denied these abuse reports with Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi saying yesterday he had not received word of such claims.
“I believe that these are just more baseless allegations. If there is any shooting, the police and the armed forces will make the necessary announcements,” he told reporters.
The Philippine government has said it wants to query Malaysia over the alleged abuses and the DSWD has been tasked to compile information from the refugees before lodging a complaint in Malaysia.
Deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said in a report on ABN-CBS News on Sunday that Malacanang has received numerous claims of the “inhumane treatment” of innocent Filipinos, many of whom had no connection to the incursion by the self-proclaimed royal army of the Sulu Sultanate.
“These reports are unacceptable, which is why the [Department of Foreign Affairs] will be contacting their Malaysian counterparts to [discuss the matter],” she was quoted saying in an online report.