| |  
Sabah refugees:
Tales of hardship and uncertainty
By Maita V. Santiago
  Janti 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
August 2002.
Photo by Ryan Anson
Utoh Asman, 42 years old, saw three of his 12 children die since his family was deported by Malaysian authorities last August.
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 dragnet.
Nusia Jamaldi
We 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 in Sabah.
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.
Kahit haligi sa bahay hindi maibigay
Utoh and Nusia are now among the many refugees living in Bongao and Sitangkai.
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 government support.
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 are dim.
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.

Maita 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.

Saving Primo Gasmen
Filipinos 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.
Pinay seek damages vs. recruiters, Korean ‘flesh trader’
The 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 two years.
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.
4 named outstanding seafarers of 2002
Last Sept. 22, 2002, on the occasion of the National Seafarers Day, four men received the Outstanding Seafarers of the Year Awards.
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.
Ex-club workers in South Korea fighting back
Following 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 Crime.
Jerphi, Tokofil deny deploying recruits-turned-prostitutes
Oh 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.
Sheik seen as savior of 23 seamen jailed in Abu Dhabi
Out 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.
SEX 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 superpowers?

Room 303, Paragon Tower, 531 A. Flores St., Ermita, Manila
Tel Nos. 526-5541 to 50 loc. 218 / TeleFax. 526-3802
Copyright 2002 © PLANET PINOY PUBLISHING INC. All rights reserved.