Deportations from Sabah to be “calibrated and humane”

Tawi-Tawi Rep. Nur Jaafar told MindaNews in a telephone interview that an agreement with Malaysian authorities had been reached to observe a “manageable, calibrated and humane approach in the arrest, detention, and deportation of Filipinos in Sabah, including children of Filipinos there.”

Jaafar said a day care center will be provided children of the detainees with the Philippine government providing the teachers.

Speaker Jose de Venecia sent the humanitarian mission composed of Jaafar, Representatives Hussin Amin of the 1st district of Sulu, Munir Arbison of the 2nd district of Sulu and Party List rep. Mujiv Hataman of Anak Mindanao to ask Malaysian authorities for a “smooth and staggered deportation” of Filipino women and children considered illegally staying in Malaysia.

Hataman told MindaNews Friday that a total of 1,187 Filipinos are presently detained in Sabah, 10 of them on death row.

Hataman said their mission was tasked to look into six major issues: the condition of Filipinos in detention centers in Sabah; the condition of Filipinos facing the death penalty in Sabah for drug-related offenses; the condition of Filipino refugees and the status of their children in Sabah; Philippine and Malaysian government’s mutual commitment to ensure the orderly and humane treatment of deportees; arrangement for returnees to return to Sabah with pre-agreed employment opportunities and human trafficking in Sabah.

The Sabah State Government initially issued IMM13 documents to 61,314 Filipino refugees seeking sanctuary from war in Mindanao in the 1970s.

Majority of them have stayed on in Sabah. Since there was no indication the IMM13 holders were going to return to Mindanao, the Sabah government granted permanent residence (PR) status to 20,009 of the IMM13 holders.

Malaysia has been been cracking down on undocumented aliens the past few years.

Up to half a million Filipinos live in Malaysia, many of them families of refugees who fled the war in Mindanao in the 1970s. A still undetermined number of Filipinos there are undocumented.

The congressional mission told Malaysian authorities the Philippine government “does not countenance the presence of illegal migrant workers in Sabah but only desires to have a manageable, calibrated and humane approach in the arrest, detention , and deportation of these overseas working Filipinos.”

Hataman said the officials they met –Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad,  Chief Minister Dastuk Musa Aman and Head of State Tun Alimadshah Abdullah, informed them Filipinos were welcome to Sabah to seek employment “provided they have the legal documents.”

The Malaysian government punishes both the Malaysian employer and the illegal Filipino migrant worker upon the arrest of the latter.

Jaafar said the Immigrations Officer in Malaysia had suggested that a consulate be set up in  Zambaoanga City as this is a major port for travel into Malaysia.

At present, Malaysia, like Indonesia, has a consulate in Davao City.

Zamboanga and Davao, however, are far from each other.

Hataman said the one-stop processing centers in Zamboanga City and Tawi-tawi, which were set up at the height of the deportations and Malaysia’s crackdown on illegal aliens in 2002, will be reactivated to process the “legalization of papers and processing of work visa of Filipinos bound for Sabah.”

Jaafar said the issue on citizenship and issuance of birth certificates will be addressed by the RP-Malayisa Working Group on Migrant Workers which will be convened “as possible.”

On March 14 last year, President Arroyo issued Administrative Order 116, acknowledging that the “current developments in Sabah make it imperative to organize an integrated and systematic welfare and assistance program to extend the necessary help to affected overseas Filipinos.”

The AO outlined several points to ensure “an integrated and well-coordinated assistance and services to the returning Filipinos from Sabah and network with all agencies, both national and local, in order to assure the welfare and well-being of said repatriates,” among them “maximum humanitarian facilities” and “social support services to include the reception, classification, alternative livelihood, temporary shelter, as well as the efficient transport of returning Filipino citizens from Sabah to their respective places of origin.”

The President directed the Department of Budget and Management to release to the Department of Labor and Employment P2 million pesos “to be taken from the savings of all the participating agencies, in order to provide resources for the smooth implementation of this Administrative Order.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)