OWWA-12 on alert for effects of Sabah crisis on OFWs

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/07 March) — The Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Region 12 is closely monitoring the ongoing crisis in Sabah, Malaysia due to its possible impact on Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) from the area.

Abdulghani Umag, OWWA Region 12 director, said Thursday their help desk is presently on standby for any possible assistance that might be needed by OFWs in Sabah as well as their families.

But he clarified that the national government has not yet issued a stand regarding the plight of the OFWs in Sabah.

“We’re currently on alert and ready to provide any help to our OFWs there in case the situation worsens,” he said in a radio interview.

He did not cite any figures of OFWs from the region that are currently working in Sabah as most of their documented workers are based in Kuala Lumpur and in other parts of mainland Malaysia.

Region 12 comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and North Cotabato as well as the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

Umag said they were still waiting for the family of a documented OFW in Sabah to establish contact with the OWWA regional office in Koronadal City.

“The problem is that most of our OFWs in Sabah are undocumented and had entered the area illegally via the backdoor,” he said.

He noted that these workers entered Sabah through pump boats that regularly ply the area from nearby islands in Tawi-tawi and the neighboring provinces.

Umag said Tawi-tawi is quite close to Sabah that one could almost see the shores of the capital city of Kota Kinabalu.

“From Bongao (capital of Tawi-tawi), you can reach Sabah through a pump boat in just about 30 minutes,” he said.

Around 800,000 Filipinos are reportedly living in parts of Sabah, which is historically part of the Sultanate of Sulu.

On February 12, close to 200 members of the so-called Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu led by Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram settled in Sabah’s Lahad Datu town to assert their long-standing claim on the Malaysian state.

The group mainly comprised followers of the sultanate’s titular head Sultan Jamalul Kiram III from the provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-tawi.

The move triggered a standoff that eventually led to a series of armed clashes between the group and Malaysian forces since Friday last week.

The national government had repeatedly urged Kiram’s group to stand down and return home but the latter refused to heed them and instead resisted attacks by Malaysian forces that already left 40 people dead as of Wednesday.

Kiram III declared Thursday noon a unilateral ceasefire in a bid to prevent further loss of  lives but Malaysia rejected the truce offer and called on his followers to surrender unconditionally.  (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)