Worried over security crisis, but Sabahans warn against stereotyping Filipinos

By Ida Lim
The Malaysian Insider
Mar 05, 2013

File photo of police commandos on alert where the armed Filipino militants are holding up in a plantation outside Lahad Datu. — Reuters picKUALA LUMPUR, March 5 — While worried about their safety as armed foreigners roam the Sabah east coast, Sabahans have warned against stereotyping the thousands of Filipinos living in the Borneo state.

Followers of a claimant to the Sulu sultanate’s throne landed in Lahad Datu on February 9 to revive their claim to Sabah but clashes with police have left eight Malaysian policemen and 20 militants dead over the weekend.

“Yes. Too much chaos. I can’t take it. I just want Sabah to be peaceful again. No more bloodshed. But at the same time, I don’t want our leaders to make decisions without thinking,” 26-year-old Sabahan Audrey W. told The Malaysian Insider.

She had a lot of unanswered questions over the armed rebels who had set foot three-weeks ago in Kampung Tanduo, a village about 130km from Lahad Datu, asking: “How did they land in Sabah? Who allowed them?”

But she also pointed out that a number of Filipinos in the Borneo state have lived happily and were friendly with the locals for decades without problems.

“My parents are serving in a church where there are a lot of Filipinos and Indonesians members, church goers. My parents have been working so closely with them. They are very friendly and helpful and generous, giving people,” said Audrey, who works in a law firm in the state capital Kota Kinabalu.

“However there are a lot of Filipinos in Sabah. If they really want to retaliate or rise up, it’s actually quite scary. Most Sabahans are fearful for their safety,” she said.

Esther Chin, 23, also from Kota Kinabalu, appeared puzzled when commenting on the self-proclaimed followers of the Sultanate of Sulu who are now claiming that Sabah belongs to them, saying she did not understand why they suddenly wanted to “rise up”.

“I feel they are a bit uncivilised because I don’t know are they brainwashed by the sultan or they really can’t let go of Sabah after so long,” she said.

“I wasn’t prepared for this. It has been settled long time ago. Why bring this up?” she asked, saying that there was previously a “fake sultan” who she and her friends had laughed off as a joke.

Chin’s remarks reflect the sentiments of Sabahans who have known the land to be part of Malaysia for decades and regard any claims on Sabah as a threat to Malaysian sovereignty.

But Chin cautioned against stereotyping the Filipinos or Indonesians who live in Sabah, saying there were “non-aggressive” ones who just want to make a living and “aggressive” people who want to “make war”.

“They’re OK. They’re nice people,” she said, referring to those who live here peacefully and have valid working permits.

But the Sultanate of Sulu and its followers insist and believe that they remain the owner of the land, pointing to an annual token payment from Malaysia that they contend amounts to rental, while Malaysia argues that it is payment for the sultanate to cede its rights.

A Lahad Datu-born lecturer expressed worry about the safety of his family and declined to be named, saying the situation in Sabah was “emotionally disturbing”.

He said some residents in Lahad Datu had run off to Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau, adding some neighbours were hiding in the plantations.

He also said that Sabahans were fearful for their safety, pointing out the towns of Tawau, Kunak and Semporna are “too close” to the islands in Philippines.

“Even my friends who are Bajau/Suluk have close families here from the opposite islands,” he said.

The lecturer said “Project IC” — where citizenship was allegedly granted to illegal immigrants in Sabah through irregular means — was “definitely related” to the situation now, adding it was “the root” of the problem.

He said Sabahans are used to the existence of foreigners in the state, but said that “with such a standoff… the fire has started.”

“I am afraid with the numbers because they might attack us anytime. We are surrounded by them, those with identity cards plus (the) standoff group,” he said, referring to the estimated 200-odd Filipino militants facing local security forces.

A common theme that cropped up was the lack of reliable and trustworthy information on the events unfolding in Sabah.

Audrey said there was “no transparency”, adding that “the locals, they don’t know who to believe, whether the foreign news or local news”, later adding “I don’t know who to believe”.

The lecturer who declined to be named said there were “too many rumours” and there were conflicting reports from different media.

“We live without peace. Every second we have to update through Facebook. For older generation, (they) totally rely on radio and TV,” he said,

Sabahans have been relying on social media such as Facebook and Twitter apart from news portals as their primary sources of information, with many posting news reports and talk on the ground on Facebook regularly.

Information has also been circulated through text messages and phone calls from friends and family members concerned about the threat by the Filipino militants.

Last Saturday, six policemen were killed in an ambush during a raid in coastal town Semporna, while an armed man of Sulu descent was reportedly beaten to death by local villagers there. The Sulu rebels have claimed that they have captured several Malaysians and are holding them hostage.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 - 8:21 am

    There is a very good side point here. Sabahan, even the older generation, will notice how different the MSM report and the reality they see confirmed via those who have internet and cellphones.

    When Anwar goes to Sabah next and point out the lies of Utusan and TV3 on this, its going go a long long way to convince Sabahan…

  2. #2 by monsterball on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 - 8:26 am

    When there are conflicts…chaos….fighting…deaths…came out from a cooked up something…from nothing;….does that not sound like a good idea to declare Emergency Rule and have no 13th GE??
    It is fear factor in the most cruel way…started.
    It is a pattern of fallen dictators….to apply….all over the world.

  3. #3 by monsterball on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 - 8:29 am

    Remember….Sulu Sultanate said Malaysian Police first the first shot….and confirmed by IGP.
    That first shot…killed 14 Malaysians and counting.

  4. #4 by St Peter on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 - 8:55 am

    This is the time to show that are Chinese lived in Malaysia living as Malaysian? Are Filipinos lived in Sabah living as Malaysian?

  5. #5 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 - 10:04 am

    Y WORRY!? Surely UmnoB/BN gomen in Sabah proudly proclaims: Satu LAGI Projek Kerajaan UmnoB/BN

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