Manila braces for Filipino exodus from Sabah conflict zone

Police personnel check the identity of passengers on a road leading to Kampung Tanduo, in Lahad Datu March 8, 2013. — Reuters picPolice personnel check the identity of passengers on a road leading to Kampung Tanduo, in Lahad Datu March 8, 2013. — Reuters picKUALA LUMPUR, March 13 ― The Philippine government is readying for a potential refugee crisis in its southern islands with Filipinos fleeing Sabah’s restive east coast as Malaysia’s defence forces step up the hunt for Sulu militants it regards as terrorists.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has ordered government officials to stock up on food supplies and step up humanitarian support to Filipinos ― including illegal emigrants seeking better jobs ― who have started returning to the republic by the hundreds since last Friday, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported today.

“The president wants the heads of government agencies to ensure that there will be sufficient supply of food and government support to our countrymen in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

“The president ordered us to ensure the safety of Filipinos living in those areas and that the government is ready in case there will be an influx of evacuees,” Philippine Interior Secretary Mar Roxas was quoted as saying.

The Aquino administration has ordered 100,000 sacks of rice to be delivered to evacuation centres in the south Philippines, the paper reported, as fear over food shortages appeared to be driving up prices of the staple there.

“We have enough stocks of rice (in that part of Mindanao). There is no reason for traders to hike the prices of other basic commodities there,” Trade Undersecretary Zeny Maglaya was quoted as saying.

Roxas had led an interagency meeting in Manila yesterday to prevent possible problems that may arise from the return of the illegals.

“There is none, for now at least,” Roxas said when asked if the exodus had resulted in a humanitarian crisis in Mindanao.

An estimated 800,000 Filipinos are believed to have made Sabah their home.

Philippine Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman was reported to have said some 1,500 Filipino illegals from Sabah had arrived in the coastal towns of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi since Friday.

Soliman was reported to have said about 450 people had quit Lahad Datu and Sandakan, two of four hotspots where fierce fights between Malaysian security forces and militants have broken out killing at least 66 people on both sides as of yesterday.

The Philippine government expects more Filipinos to leave Sabah as Malaysian security forces chase after the remnants of the 200-strong Sulu guerrilla troop led by Agbimuddin Kiram, brother to Jamalul Kiram III ― the Sulu “Sultan” claiming to own the north Borneo state.


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