Friday, August 9, 2002

Malaysia denies forcing Filipinos into sea journey

By Max de Leon

THE Malaysian government has denied forcing 173 Filipinos off to sea in an overcrowded boat at the start of its crackdown on illegal migrants, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople quoted an initial report from Ambassador to Malaysia Jose Brillantes on the reported inhumane treatment of deportees.
“The Malaysian government did not put the so-called Filipino deportees in a fishing boat,” Ople said. He quoted Brillantes as saying the Malaysian policy is put the deportees on regular ferry services and pay for the transport fees, at an average of P720 per person.
The DFA chief said a team that investigated in Sabah, found that the 173 Filipinos allegedly left the province of Sandakan “on their own.”
He confirmed a Navy report that said the Filipinos were crammed into a fishing vessel with a 30-person capacity.
“The second finding is that the Filipino deportees left on their own in the belief that they were going to beat the deadline for amnesty, not knowing that the deadline had been extended for 15 days,” Ople said.
It was, however, unclear, why the Malaysians allowed a grossly overcrowded vessel to leave port last Aug. 1. Many of the passengers were women and children, according to Navy rescuers on board the BRP Sultan Kudarat.
Navy officers said the Filipinos claimed they had been offered a choice between arrest and leaving.
The Malaysian amnesty for illegal aliens was originally set to expire July 31 but the Malaysian government granted Ople’s request for an extension.
Ople stressed Brillante’s initial findings did not mean an end to the investigation. He said the consular team would continue its probe into the treatment of Filipinos in Sabah.