Tales of hardship and uncertainty
Maita V. Santiago
Sabri finds a tight space to wait with other Filipino
refugees as they prepare to disembark from a Philippine
naval vessel at the port of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. On the
night. of Sept. 20, 2002, a Philippine Navy ship and coast
guard vessel ferried 789 undocumented Filipino citizens
from Sandakan, Sabah to Tawi-Tawi. More than 400 hundred
of them had been detained and deported by Malaysian government
officials who have been cracking down on illegal immigrants
residing in Sabah since
by Ryan Anson
Asman, 42 years old, saw three of his 12 children die
since his family was deported by Malaysian authorities
After spending about 13 years as a laborer in Sabah, Utoh
and his entire family were arrested when Malaysian police
came to demolish their house. For the next 15 days, they
were confined in one of Sabah’s notoriously overcrowded
and unsanitary detention centers before being sent home
to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.
It was in an unfinished ward at the Tawi-Tawi provincial
hospital that their inhuman and brutal experience exacted
its toll on his children. In a room swarming with flies
and occupied by metal cushion-less cots, Utoh cared for
his 5 children.
Confined for respiratory illnesses, his children ages
7, 5 and 3 years old died within one week of each other
starting September 19, at the Datu Halun Sakilan Memorial
Hospital in Bongao.
Utoh relays in Tagalog that in addition to the other two
who remain in the hospital, he has two more children at
home whom he fears may soon go blind because of a measles-complication.
In August, Philippine media reports said at least 13 children
died in the detention centers or during the journey home.
According to Health Action for Human Rights doctors, epidemics
of illnesses like those that infected the Asman children,
are common during natural and man-made disasters.
As early as December 2001, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir
Bin Mohammed’s government has been implementing
a brutal crackdown on undocumented workers. Out of the
approximately 500,000 undocumented Filipinos in Sabah,
around 84,000 Filipino refugees have already voluntarily
and involuntarily returned.
Under the framework of Operation Black Crow, Malaysian
authorities are tightening the noose around its migrant
population, composed mostly of Filipinos and Indonesians.
Early this September, Malaysia also began implementing
a more stringent immigration law. All undocumented workers
caught will now be arrested, subject to six months imprisonment,
a US$2,500 fine and possibly six strokes of the cane under
the repressive law.
According to the Tawi-Tawi Department of Social Welfare
and Development, they documented 8,838 refugees as of
August 26. Out of this, 90% or 7,928 are from Tawi-Tawi,
Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga City.
These figures do not count the greater number who came
back on their own for fear of being caught in the Malaysian
met Nusia Jamaldi in the “Venice of the South”,
Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi — which is two hours away from
Sabah by speedboat.
Originally from Rio Hondo in Zamboanga City, Nusia and
her family moved to Sabah in 1992.
There are no roads in Sitangkai because almost the entire
community is composed of footbridges, homes and shelters
atop the water. We took a small rowboat to get to the
area where Nusia and 10 other refugees lived.
Having spent her life as an illiterate and subsistent
fisherfolk in the margins of society, Nusia does not know
how old she is. However, her black hair and the wrinkles
around her face shows she is in her late 40s.
In contrast to her thin body, Nusia spoke loudly and was
clearly agitated when recounting what happened to them
About eight months ago, Nusia’s community in a Semporna
water village, was a demolition site. It was 6 am one
morning when a knock came on her door. It was the police
armed with long guns. Before she could salvage all her
belongings, chainsaws began whirring under her house.
Her home’s wooden posts were cut, ropes were tied
around the frame to a motorboat and soon, all she could
do was sit and witness it go down into the water.
After two days in a cemetery with little food, she and
her other relatives went back how they came on small rowboats.
Throughout their overnight voyage from Semporna to Sitangkai,
Nusia recalls they had no food or water.
Pointing to a pile of belongings contained in straw bags
in one corner of the room, she says that was all they
were able to bring back.
Today, Nusia shares a small shelter, made of coconut leaves
and bamboo, atop the water with more than 10 other people.
After our interview, we walk shakily over pieces of wood
that pass as a precarious footbridge to their hut.
Peering inside, she points to the gaping holes in the
floor and describes how once, a young child fell through
the hole. The bamboo materials for the hut were taken
from a nearby island.
When we asked if there’s anything about Sabah she
still recalls, she says she misses her own house. Homeless
in Sitangkai, Nusia said she still remembers fondly her
home in Sabah.
For its part, the Malaysian government says it gave Philippine
authorities ample notice about its intention to boot out
Nusia and hundreds of thousands of other refugees.
haligi sa bahay hindi maibigay
and Nusia are now among the many refugees living in Bongao
But apart from the swift processing of passports and fare
back to nearby provinces, the Philippine government offers
them and other refugees nothing in terms of how they will
begin building their new homes and new lives in the Philippines.
Visits and discussions with local government officials
and the refugees, point to the glaring absence of national
The lack of a comprehensive reintegration program for
the refugees means the swift processing of passports and
other papers is the centerpiece of what the Philippine
government has in store for them.
At the “One Stop Shop” in Bongao, the Department
of Foreign Affairs mobile passport team gave out free
passports to 519 refugees between September 2 and 20.
However, since they are stamped only with a 15-day tourist
visa, they only leave the refugees vulnerable to further
abuse once their visas expire in Sabah.
Nonetheless, refugees armed with their new passports besiege
an immigration officer at the Tawi-Tawi part so they can
board the next boat to Sabah.
For those who stay, their future is filled with uncertainty.
Since the majority of refugees hail from Basilan, Sulu
and Tawi-Tawi, far-flung provinces that reel from grinding
poverty and heightened militarization, the possibility
of their carving out new lives in their home provinces
After almost a decade in Sabah, many like Utoh and Nusia
return to find that the conditions that forced them to
leave, have improved little.
A reality which thousands more overseas Filipino workers
attest to as each visit home only makes more clear, the
need to prepare to leave again in search of livelihood
on other shores.
With more Filipinos possibly repatriated because of crackdowns
in other countries or war in the Middle East, the experience
of the Sabah refugees may also be a portent of more things
to come for overseas Filipinos.
Santiago joined the Fact Finding, Relief and Medical
Mission to Tawi-Tawi and Sulu. The mission was held
September 22 to 29 and led by Task Force Tulong Sabah
Refugees, which was initiated by various people’s
organizations as a response to the forced exodus of
our kababayans from Sabah.
in Saudi Arabia and the Philippines are now raising $15,000
in blood money to save Primo Gasmen’s head. The
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) launched
the “Piso Para Kay Primo” fund-raising drive
while Lakas Rep. Apolinario L. Lozada (5th Dist., Negros
Occidental) launched his “Isang Libo para kay Primo”
project, which seeks to collect P1,000 each from his 213
colleagues in the House of Representatives. Lozada will
turn over the donations to the OWWA.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)
also has its own fund-raising drive which reportedly raised
over P200,000 already as of this writing.
The OFWNet Foundation-Jeddah Chapter and the Alyansa ng
mga Samahang Pilipino sa Ibayong Dagat-Western Region
chapter also started raising cash donations.
Gasmen, a native of Alcala, Pangasinan, was convicted
in 2000 for killing his Nepalese co-worker, Khim Bahadur
Gurong, during a knife scuffle in 1998. He has been jailed
and is scheduled for beheading in January 2003. But Gurong’s
family agreed to spare the Filipino from death if his
family could put up the blood money.
Let’s save Gasmen.
seek damages vs. recruiters, Korean ‘flesh trader’
quest of 11 Filipinas for justice against the Korean club
manager who forced them into prostitution in South Korea
is not yet over. Afterall, South Korean authorities can
only jail Park Byeong-Young for 10 months and just banned
him from operating his Club 69 in Tongduchon City for
Philippine Labor Attaché to Seoul Reydeluz Conferido
disclosed that the Philippine Overseas Labor Office is
claiming civil damages against the manager and the Filipino
recruiters Ofelia Bautista and Edilberto Abayari.
Congratulations to Gemmalyn S. Patawaran, Emy Rodriguez,
Irene E. Roque, Cherielyn Mallari, Julie Ann Legazon,
Mary Grace Zamora Cortez, Marian R. Tolentino, Rosalia
C. Torres, Cristina M. Bustos, Lourdes T. Manasal and
Michelle C. Quito for exposing their ordeal and cooperating
with the POLO and POEA in filing the case against Park.
The 11 were recruited as entertainers but were forced
to work as prostitutes in Club 69. POLO, with the help
of local police, rescued them from the club last June
and they were repatriated the following month.
The POEA did not find Bautista and Abayari in their addresses
in San Fernando, Pampanga and Sta. Cruz, Manila. The recruiters
and suspected Korean employers are now in the POEA and
Bureau of Immigration watchlist.
named outstanding seafarers of 2002
Sept. 22, 2002, on the occasion of the National Seafarers
Day, four men received the Outstanding Seafarers of the
Vice President Teofisto T. Guingona handed the awards
to Capt. Danilo Morales and his crew, Jose R. Rada and
the crew of the m/v Tampa, Capt. Constantino Arcellana
and former radio officer Celso de Guzman.
Morales and his all-Filipino crew aboard m/v Bernhard
Schulte were honored for rescuing 16 foreign seamen of
the m/v Buff Bay off Mauritius Island during a stormy
night. Rada, one of the 14 crew of the m/v Tampa, amused
children who were rescued from a refugee ship drifting
in the Indian Ocean on Aug. 26, 2002. Arcellana, president
of Globe Master Shipping and PRC examiner, has dedicated
himself to stopping fraudulent certification of seafarers
by being vice chairman of the Maritime Coalition for Integrity
in Seafarers’ Certification. De Guzman introduced
Radio Electronics Course in 1999 that helped transform
Filipino radio officers displaced by the GMDSS into technicians
and regain their jobs aboard.
workers in South Korea fighting back
the example of the 11 victims of sex slavery, six undocumented
Filipina club workers who have been repatriated from South
Korea filed illegal recruitment charges against Mardeolyn
Martir of New Filipino Manpower Development and Services,
an unlicensed agency.
The POEA prosecution division assisted Lea Yasis, Victoria
Almonte, Anne Y. Cabunillas, Josephine C. Ballesteros,
Marilou dela Rosa and Minda B. San Juan in preparing and
filing the case with the Makati City prosecution office
(case number IS#02E-6676-82). The six were illegally deployed
to work at Shirly’s Club in Waegan, South Korea.
The POEA is also helping seven other dancers, who ran
away from their promoter in South Korea, in filing similar
charge against unlicensed Expertise Promotion, which recruited
them. The seven are Wendra Mary Ann P. Tolosa, Ruth Garcia,
Ana S. Angeles, Maritess Asuncion, Eva Joy M. Chavez,
Rodelisa Bautista and Loida R. Galina.
POEA administrator Rosalinda D. Baldoz said the legal
assistance would only prosper if the victims are willing
to testify and cooperate with them. She said the recruiters
have been included in the POEA and BI watchlist. The cases
were also referred to the Philippine Center for Transnational
Tokofil deny deploying recruits-turned-prostitutes
yes, 11 recruiters might be sending Filipinas aged 17
to 31 to work in South Korean brothels, said Sen. Aquilino
Q. Pimentel Jr. He asked Labor Secretary Patricia A. Sto.
Tomas to investigate FMB Promotion, Mega Star Agency,
MJB Recruitment Agency, Tokophil, Korea Special Tourist
Association, Alex and Carol Banag, Alex Jeremias, Korean
Yoo Bong Ki, Jerphi Placement Agency and Allen Torres.
But oh no, they’re not doing it, said two of the
recruiters. Jerphi representative Florinda Suanar and
Tokofil International Manpower Services liaison officer
to the POEA Ricky Fulgosino made the denial. Suanar said
they only deploy documented workers while Fulgosino claimed
they don’t deploy workers to South Korea.
POEA is now acting on Pimentel’s request.
seen as savior of 23 seamen jailed in Abu Dhabi
of the 30 Filipino seamen jailed in Abu Dhabi, United
Arab Emirates since January 2001 for allegedly defrauding
two banks, only seven had been released. In April 15,
2002, Nilo Martinez, Jaime Feliciano, Ernesto Castillo
and Juan Aguilar arrived in Manila via Gulf Air Flight
No. 254. An Arab court and the Standard Chartered Bank
cleared the four of responsibility in obtaining huge loans
that they could not pay after the finance manager of their
agency, Stanley Pereira, admitted falsifying information
on the loan application forms of the 30 seamen to get
money for himself.
Last July 6, Nelson Caramoan, Jose Hofilena and Capt.
Dionisio Sulayao were also released based on Pereira’s
admission. Still detained at the Mamoorah jail as of press
time are Mario Algodon, Ildefonso Amul, Nestor Augustine,
Frederick Caramoan, Albert Dagsa, Nicasio Dagsa, Jose
Diaz, Roger Gariando, Marianito Gimena, Paulita Gimena,
Antonio Hafala, Danilo Padilla, Samuel Ramirez, Edward
Reyes, Rufino Sawali, Marcelino Silan, Joel Sumalde, Renato
Tajero, Alvin John Tayao, Ronnie Valdez, Fred Vertudez,
Johnny Villasoto and Leonardo Zapanta.
Amb. Amable M. Aguiluz III and Consul Renato Villa are
negotiating the release of the 23 with Sheik Khalid bin
Saqr Al-Qassimi, the crown prince of UAE and chairman
of the Raz Al Khaima Bank, where the seamen obtained the
loans of up to 100,000 dirhams.
BOMB GIRLS. Fourteen boob-tube babes would like
to help fight lawlessness and evil in our crime-infested
communities. How are they going to do it if they have
YOUR COPY NOW