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OFWs a casualty in Sabah conflict?

Amid the continuing tension between a group of armed Filipinos and Malaysian government troops in Sabah, a migrant workers' group accused the Philippine government of allegedly concealing the true conditions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) there. “Now the government appears to take into consideration the lives and welfare of OFWs in Sabah when it has done nothing to address OFWs’ work-related plights and ‘stateless status’ through the years,” Migrante Partylist Chairperson and 1st nominee Connie Bragas-Regalado said in a statement. Presiden Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday went on national television to appeal to Kiram to call on his followers to come home, saying that their continued standoff in Malaysia is causing problems not just for them, but for some 800,000 Filipinos there. However, according to Bragas-Regalado, the sad plight of Pinoys in Sabah began long before Kiram’s followers made a bid to take back the disputed territory. The tense situation in Sabah appeared to have worsened on Friday. While the camp of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III on Friday noon claimed that 10 Filipinos holed up at a village in Sabah had been killed, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday denied these reports. “The Philippine Embassy in Sabah has done nothing to address the problems of Filipinos working or residing in Sabah,” she said, adding that slave-like conditions of Filipino plantation workers, ‘stateless children’ and human trafficking of women and workers have been going on for so long with nary a mention from the Aquino administration. “Our government has not lifted a finger to assist them,” Bragas-Regalado said. Bragas-Regalado noted the disparity between the administration’s handling of the Spratlys and Sabah issue, despite both being matters of disputed territories that the Philippines claims. “It is aggressive in the Spratlys issue to promote and justify increased US troops presence in the Asia-Pacific region while it is passive in the Sabah issue to goad the Moro Islamic Front (MILF) into capitulation and to appease Malaysia which plays a lead role in the ongoing peace negotiations between the MILF and GPH. This is another double standard,” said Bragas-Regalado. “Migrante recognizes the Philippines’ legitimate historical, legal and rightful claim to the Sabah territory. We fail to comprehend how the government is taking a defeatist stance in Sabah when we have as much right to assert claim as we are doing in the Spratlys dispute with China,” she added. However, in a press briefing on Thursday, Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman refuted Migrante’s claims, saying that as early as 2003, the Philippine government has assigned a social welfare attaché to Malaysia, tasked to monitor the conditions of Filipinos there. “We’re working very hard to protect our Filipinos in Sabah,” Soliman insisted. Soliman also said she was personally affronted by the allegations, as recently a Filipino social worker who was set to testify against unfair working conditions in Sabah was brutally killed. “[Finardo Cabilao] was killed in Malaysia the day before he was going to testify against traffickers of Filipinas. He dispensed with his diplomatic immunity so that he can testify against persons from Malaysia and persons from the Philippines. The night before that, he was brutally killed in his apartment. And, to this day, we have not solved the problem,” an emotional Soliman said. Soliman also noted government efforts to visit incarcerated Pinoys in Malaysia, as well as assistance extended to those about to be deported. “Marami po tayong mga kababayan na napi-preso na walang dokumento. Binibisita po ‘yung mga plantation kung ano ‘yung kailangan lalong-lalo na sa mga batang hindi po nakakapag-aral. Nakikipag-usap po sa mga NGOs para magkaroon ng alternative learning system ang mga bata. At, kung meron ho tayong dini-deport na mga kababayan, tinutulungan po para ‘yung travel documents nila ay maayos,” Soliman said. - VVP, GMA News
Tags: sabah, malaysia, sulu