Senator Chiz Escudero called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to make immediate representations with their counterparts in Malaysia to probe reports of alleged violations of human rights on Filipinos in Sabah as a result of the Malaysian forces’ sweep against followers of the Sulu Sultanate.
“The government has the responsibility to find out the truth about the alleged atrocities committed by Malaysian security forces against Filipinos which are recounted by our countrymen who fled Sabah and are now in refugee camps in Mindanao,” Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said.
“The DFA should find out what is going on in Sabah and know how best the government can guarantee and protect the rights of about 800,000 Filipinos residing there,” Escudero said.
“Nothing, and I mean nothing, not even the action of the Sultanate of Sulu, can and will ever justify any government to violate the human rights of a person. Human rights should always be respected under any circumstances, he added.
The senator said protection of human rights also covers the members of the “royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu,” and innocent civilians in Sabah.
Escudero said the Senate recently passed the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Act which, among others, seeks to provide protection and compensation to civilians caught in the middle of a crossfire brought about by a military operation.
“It is a landmark piece of legislation which I hope Malaysia also has or, if not, should have,” the senator said.
The rise in the number of Filipinos returning home to escape the strife in Sabah is a humanitarian crisis in the offing which needs intensified efforts from government using its disaster-response capabilities, Escudero said.
He said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is doing exemplary work in documenting the Filipino refugees who fled the conflict zone to escape being caught the crossfire and a Malaysian police crackdown but he said the agency would need the help of other agencies to avoid being overwhelmed by the influx of Filipinos crossing the border.
So far, more than 1,000 Filipinos have crossed Sabah to seek safe haven in southern Mindanao particularly Tawi-Tawi.
Some of the Filipinos who fled Sabah recounted incidences of Malaysian authorities targeting Filipino civilians to flush out Kiram’s men.
This exposes Filipinos to the danger of their rights being violated, Escudero said.
He said the government should provide immediate assistance to Filipinos wanting to return to the country as a result of the Sabah conflict the same way that help is provided to other Filipinos seeking to avoid areas of tension in other parts of the globe.
Escudero reiterated his call for the establishment of one-stop shops in the country’s port of entries to process Filipino refugees.#