Akbayan Party-list Representative Walden Bello today called for a congressional hearing to look into the plight of the Filipinos in Sabah as the Malaysian government rejected a ceasefire offered by the Sultan of Sulu.
Bello, who is the Chairperson of the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, said he will investigate reports of alleged cases of abuse against Filipino citizens working and residing in Sabah from Malaysian security forces as a result of the crisis.
“It is the responsibility of the Philippine government to protect Filipino lives wherever they are. Even as Congress initiates an investigation to the reports of abuse committed against our nationals, all concerned agencies must already take immediate steps to ensure the safety of our countrymen in the area especially those considered ‘stateless’ or undocumented,” Bello said.
Bello said that if there were clear violations committed against Filipino citizens, the Philippine government must demand its Malaysian counterpart to hold those involved accountable.
“The Malaysian government must not mistake our commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict as an invitation for their security forces to take advantage of our citizens by wantonly violating their rights. All those that will be proven to have participated in such abuses should be made accountable,” Bello asserted.
Malaysia’s militarist response could spill over to Pinoy communities in Sabah
Bello, who is also a renowned international political analyst, feared that with the militarist solution carried out by the Malaysian government to end the crisis, arrests and incarceration of undocumented Filipinos in Sabah might escalate and become more abusive. He said that even legitimate Filipino residents and workers might become vulnerable to abuses.
“We all know that in the past, Filipinos, especially trafficked Filipino women in Sabah have become victims of arrests and illegal detention from Malaysian authorities. Crises such as this often create an atmosphere of xenophobia. We hope our countrymen don’t become victims of racial intolerance,” Bello explained.
“Thus, we call on the Malaysian government to heed the call of the UN and reciprocate the ceasefire offered by the Sultan of Sulu. We reiterate our call for restraint from all stakeholders and for both governments not to waver in finding a diplomatic solution to this conflict,” Bello added.
The Akbayan lawmaker also called on the Aquino government to work closely with its Malaysian counterpart to provide a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to allow the safe transit of humanitarian aid to Filipino and Malaysian citizens caught in the crossfire.
“I join the international community as we call on the Philippine and Malaysian governments to provide ‘safe zones’ where humanitarian organizations can provide assistance to both Filipino and Malaysian citizens who are displaced, injured and requiring medical care,” Bello said. ###