Sabah a nation of migrants – Migrante

Migrante Partylist today appealed for international unity against human rights abuses, harassment and extra-judicial killings of Filipinos in Sabah by Malaysian security forces.

According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Partylist chairperson and first nominee, “Sabah is a nation of migrants. Its population consists mainly not of Malaysians but of migrants and immigrants, peoples that have contributed greatly to the development of Sabah and Malaysia. These are the same peoples that have endured numerous abuses by repressive Malaysian security forces through the years.”

Sabah’s 3.1 million population is pre-dominated by migrants and immigrants from tribes from Mindanao, namely the Orang Suluk, Bajau, Yakan, Samal, Tausug and Iranun, all considered as “bumiputera (natives)”, the Malaysian term for “son of the land” because they have inhabited Sabah since the 1970s; and Ilocanos, Bisayas, Chavacanos, Kapampangans and Tagalog who have migrated to Sabah to work in its plantations, tourist spots and industries.

Aside from Filipinos, Indonesians, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs, Eurasians, East Timorese, Japanese, Koreans and Brunei Malays compose a majority of the Sabah population. The native Borneon Sabahans, on the other hand, consist a minority of the Sabah population.

“We are pointing this out to appeal to migrant workers of other nationalities in Sabah and to the international community to join us in strongly condemning the violence and human rights abuses against the Filipino people in Sabah,” Bragas-Regalado said.

She added, “This is exactly what we feared when the stand-off started. Even before the stand-off, Sabah has already become one of the worst places for any migrant worker. Now with the ongoing conflict and the Philippine government’s continuous complicity, it has become a more dangerous place for Filipino migrant workers and their children.”

She said to expect the intensification of crackdowns and raids not only on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), especially on the undocumented and/or “stateless” in Sabah, and even elsewhere in Malaysia.

“After the first attack on Sabah, we have already received reports of indiscriminate crackdowns and raids on households whose residents have Filipino-sounding names. This is on the top the long-neglected miserable situation of our migrants in Sabah,” Bragas-Regalado said.

Sabah is one of the most common destinations of trafficked migrant workers, mostly women. It is also one of the most common “transit points” of trafficked Filipinos on their way to Malaysia or other nearby parts of Asia.

Citing reports from a fact-finding mission conducted by Migrante International and other migrant groups in 2009, Bragas-Regalado said that around 80-90% of migrant workers in Sabah were trafficked. By definition, trafficking is when 1) the workers have been lied to with regard a number of things, including salary; and 2) debt bondage at high interest rates; 3) slave-like conditions, involuntary servitude; and, 4) sex trafficking.

“True to its track record, the Philippine government is still not doing anything to stop these most-recent abuses. It is not enough for the Philippine government to say that abuses are ‘unacceptable’. There has to be more pro-active measures in protecting Filipinos in Sabah and to compel the Malaysian government to protect the rights of civilians and migrants in Sabah.”

Unfortunately, Bragas-Regalado said, the Philippine government continues to play the lame duck despite human rights violations, mass arrests and deportation of Filipinos from Sabah. “The Aquino administration has no backbone, no fighting spirit, no compassion for our Filipino people in Sabah.###