MANILA: More than 7,000 Filipinos in Sabah who have been arrested by Malaysian authorities for their “undocumented migrant” status will be deported beginning February, according to Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.
Personnel from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Region IX (Zamboanga Peninsula) and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao are mobilizing troops to provide aid to the thousands of deportees who will soon be arriving in Zamboanga, she said.
The returning migrant workers will be given food, medical assistance and information on DSWD services that they can avail of.
“We will provide them with assistance that is within the means of the department to make sure their immediate economic needs are met,” Taguiwalo said on Monday.
“The safety and security of Filipino migrant workers will be protected. We will exert all efforts to ensure this,” she said.
President Rodrigo Duterte struck a deal with Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak Tun Razak in November, allowing the mass deportation of undocumented Filipinos in Sabah.
During Duterte’s state visit to Malaysia on Nov. 9 and 10, the two leaders agreed to a “gradual” deportation, with the President giving his full cooperation while Najib committing to use their naval ships to send the Filipinos back.
Taguiwalo said she has received reports that Malaysian authorities are finalizing preparations for the mass deportations from Sandakan in the east cost of Sabah to Zamboanga beginning February.
She said reports indicated that more than 7,000 Filipinos are staying in deportation centers in Sabah, exceeding the capacity of the facilities.
“President Duterte had said that our kababayans (countrymen) in Malaysia who stand to be deported will not be encouraged to seek clemency. Instead, they will be assisted during the process of deportation to ensure that their return to the Philippines will be as smooth as possible,” Taguiwalo said.
Two young Filipino children scheduled for deportation from Malaysia will arrive on Feb. 12, she said.
The two siblings—Jerrimy Bacsal, 4, and Jennica, 3—will be flown to the Philippines escorted by social welfare attaché Bernard Bonina from the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
The DSWD will assist the attache to turn over the children to their father here.
Philippine claim over Sabah
For decades, Malaysia has been arresting and deporting Filipinos accused of coming to Sabah without proper working papers, with abuses reportedly suffered while under detention.
The Philippines has a historic claim over Sabah based on the ownership of the Sultan of Sulu over what used to be North Borneo.
But the government has put the issue on the back burner for years now, even after followers of the late heir of the sultanate, Jamalul Kiram III, instigated a military stand-off with Malaysian forces in Sabah in February 2013.
The month-long standoff resulted in the death of 52 Filipinos and eight Malaysian policemen and the evacuation of over 6,000 Filipinos from Sabah.
Kiram died in October 2013. – Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network