PH humanitarian teams finally in Sabah
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Malaysian authorities finally gave the green light for humanitarian and consular teams to assist Filipinos affected by the standoff in Sabah, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on Tuesday, March 12.
Two teams with officials from the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the DFA, the Department of Social Welfare and Development are currently providing assistance in Lahad Datu and Semporna/Tawau areas in Sabah, a statement said.
The teams have been there since last Friday to "check on the condition of and assist the members of the Filipino community in those areas."
Meanwhile, the Embassy team dispatched to Tawau established contact with a group of Filipinos working in a construction site. Those among the workers who manifested the desire to be repatriated home are being assisted by the team.
According to the DFA, those Filipinos who expressed their desire to be repatriated will be assisted to do so and be resettled in their hometowns with "livelihood aid" provided by the government.
Still no access to detainees
Malaysia granted access to Filipino civilians but not to the about 100 arrested so far for being involved in the standoff, DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
"We are still waiting for full access to the Filipinos who are being held by Malaysian forces or in their custody. When we are able to meet them and find out exactly their conditions then we will be able to offer the appropriate help that we can extend," Hernandez told reporters.
The DFA has repeatedly asked Malaysia for access to the detainees, but all requests have so far been ignored.
Asked if that may have something to do with alleged human rights violations, Hernandez stressed that "it’s difficult to make such conclusion because we might border on accusation."
The department is taking the allegations seriously, but insists that every report must be documented, confirmed and validated before presenting them to the Malaysian authorities, the spokesman noted.
About 500 Filipinos -- both residents and undocumented immigrants -- are currently living in evacuation centers in Sabah. - with reports from Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com