You’d imagine it was happening in Syria or Afghanistan or some war-torn part of the world. That comes from the stories being told by Filipinos who have been horribly maltreated or whose kin have been shot to death by Malaysian security forces in Sabah. In fact that place has now become as war-torn, with all its cruelties, as those other parts of the world.
They dragged the Filipino men out of their homes in Sandakan, kicked them, and beat them up, recounted 32-year-old Amira Taradji. Then they ordered them to run, and when they did, they made sport of them, shooting at them and killing some of them. A brother of Amira was killed that way. She recounted as well how other groups of Filipinos had been rounded up and arrested even though they had papers certifying them to be legal residents. “Some of those arrested did not see jail because they were shot and killed.”
Carla Manlaw, 47, said Filipinos were fleeing Sabah for Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in droves as a result of the wanton violence being wreaked by the Malaysian forces on them. “My employer had no problem with having a Filipino worker. But what bothered me was the police.” She herself took the first ride out of Sandakan on a creaky boat, joining the crush of people there and braving the choppy waters to get to safety. Absolute fear gripped every one of them, as shown by the hastiness of their flight.
“We are asking our government to investigate now,” says Jolo, Sulu Mayor Hussin Amin. “Refugees from Sandakan and Sabah have spoken to us about their ordeal. If indeed what they have been telling us is true, then Malaysian authorities are not just targeting the Kirams in Lahad Datu.” Amin said he believed the stories because the children showed signs of deep trauma, being deathly scared at the sight of policemen; several jumped ship off the port of Jolo thinking they were still in Sabah.
But the ordeal of the evacuees is far from over. It is not merely their sheer number that poses the most daunting problems, though that is daunting enough in itself. One government official predicted that this was going to be worse than the expulsion of 64,000 Filipinos by Malaysia in 2002. Amira reveals what the biggest ordeal will be. She has brought only enough money to last her and her family a short while. She had lived in Sabah nearly all her life and knows next to nothing about the Philippines.
“We do not even know which way Calinan is now.” That is the sound of desperation. That is the sound of being lost.
Amin says he wants the Philippine government to investigate what’s happening in Sabah. Fair enough. In fact, government shouldn’t just investigate, it should protest the monstrosities against the Filipinos that are taking place there. It should lodge a bitter complaint to the United Nations and whatever international agencies, human rights and humanitarian, exist that vociferate against this to try to put a stop to this. It should come to the aid of the evacuees with all the political, financial and moral support it can muster. These are Filipinos in peril, these are Filipinos in need of succor, these are Filipinos in need of saving. Government should save them, or die trying.
But to act as though this were government’s fault, if only by negligence, that is not fair, enough or at all. To act as though government is to blame for all this by its not expressing support or solidarity or justification for the Kirams’ act of attempting to impose sovereignty on an already sovereign people, indeed by its cajoling, demanding and ordering the Kirams to stop their madness and come home to where they belong, if at all they belong anywhere, that is not fair, enough or at all. To act as though the blood now being spilled in Sabah clings to government’s hands, which you do by being silent about the Kirams besieging Sabah, which you do by not condemning the Kirams for completely gratuitously and idiotically starting a war, which you do by blithely ignoring the Kirams inviting a fallout on the Filipinos in Malaysia of catastrophic proportions, that is not fair, enough or at all.
What in Allah’s name can anyone, Christian or Muslim, Filipino or Malaysian, expect from the Kiram group swooping into Sabah, refusing to leave after repeated warnings, holing up in Tanduao, ambushing and killing cops, and defying the Malaysian government to do its worst? That the cops will not retaliate on everyone who looks remotely like a Filipino? That the Malaysian government will not in fact do its worst?
Can anyone not have foreseen this fallout from what the Kirams did? Can anyone not have expected this fallout from what the Kirams did? You know thousands of Filipinos exist in a precarious state in Sabah and elsewhere in Malaysia, most of them being illegals, and some of them being presumed illegals even when they are legal. You know Malaysia is about to have an election and its prime minister, Najib Razak, needs the Sabah vote to win and will be at pains to show the residents there he is not a wimp, something the Kirams have just given him an excuse to show. You know Malaysia’s definitions of wimpishness, and conversely strength, correspond to Ferdinand Marcos’ own definition of them, as shown in its arm-twisting of the 64,000 Filipinos in 2002.
And you up and do something as stupid as invading Sabah?
And you blame government for it? And you blame the citizens for not flying to support it?
Can anything be more anti-Filipino? I said it last week, it’s not just that it puts the peace treaty between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in peril, it’s that it puts the Filipinos in Sabah in harm’s way. How much in the way of harm? How much harm? How far the length and depth of harm? Look at the evacuees. Look at their fear and trembling.
Look at the fallout.