Mission in Sabah makes headline in KK for controversial quote

Written by Joseph Sipalan, The Borneo Post’s headline story on November 7, “Kids not Filipinos,” the deck below saying “Philippine congressman says some 100,000 children of IMM13 holders in Sabah are not recognised by Manila,” quoted Tawi-tawi Rep. Nur Jaafar as saying that the Philippine government does not recognize as Filipino citizens the children of  refugees who fled the war in Mindanao in the 1970s,  claiming they were born outside the Philippines.

“The problem should be handled by Malaysia as this group of people (is) not recognized the Philippine Government as its citizens. We however hope the children would be given an education, on humanitarian grounds,” the Post quoted Jaafar as saying.

The Star article, “Manila refuses to accept refugee kids” by Muguntan Vanar quoted Jaafar as saying “it is our country’s stand not to accept the offspring of the refugees
as our citizens because they were born outside the Philippines.”

Jaafar told MindaNews Friday that he was “misquoted” by the newspapers and that he meant children of refugees born in Malaysia who had stayed in Malaysia and had married locals.

In the Nov. 8 issue of The Star, Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia, Victoriano Lecaros said Jaafar was apparently referring to the descendants of refugees who were more Malaysian than Filipino.

“These people have no more links with the Philippines. Many of them were born here and brought up here and they are more Malaysian than Filipino. If you give them a choice, I believe they will choose to remain here,” Lecaros said.

According to the Post, some 55,000 Filipino refugees are still living in Sabah, holding the IMM13 pass issued by the Immigrations Department.

The Sabah State Government initially issued IMM13 documents to 61,314 Filipino refugees seeking sanctuary from war in Mindanao in the 1970s. In 2002, it granted permanent residency status to 20,009 of the IMM13 holders.

The Post said Jaafar estimated at “slightly over 100,000” the number of children spanning at least three generations from the original refugees who fled the Mindanao war in the 1970s. 

The Philippine Constitution provides under Article IV Section 1 on Citizenship that “those whose fathers or mothers are citizens of the Philippines” are Filipino citizens.

Speaker Jose de Venecia on November 4 announced he was sending 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. They were accompanied by Atty. Petra Maballo and Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) Special assistant Estrella Roman. Philippine Embassy officials in Kuala Lumpur also joined the team.

Hataman told MindaNews  Friday morning in Davao City that Jaafar complained to have been misquoted. He said The Borneo Post had corrected the report and that  a statement from the Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia

The mission, which de Venecia said is with the knowledge of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, is a follow-through of his April visit in Malaysia when he “took up the plight of the children of some 1,170 illegal Filipino immigrants in Sabah” with Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad.

According to the Post, Jaafar said the visit to Malaysia was “initiated by the Department of Foreign Affairs with approval from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo following the recent death of two girls, aged 3 and 11, after deportation from Sabah.”

The younger girl died on board the ferry while the elder girl died shortly after arriving in Zamboanga City.

Of the 1,170 Filipinos held in detention centers in Sabah at the time of de Venecia’s visit, 241 were under 17 years old, of whom 90 were girls. A local state newspaper, Daily Express, quoted Radzi as telling de Venecia in April that “it would be better for the children to receive education like being able to read rather than running around aimlessly at the camps.”

Hataman told MindaNews that there are now 1,187 Filipinos detained in Sabah. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)