ZAMBOANGA CITY: Malaysian authorities on Sunday detained 24 Filipinos who were caught illegally entering the oil-rich state of Sabah, just several miles off the southern Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi.
The Filipinos—aged 15 to 60 —were intercepted in three separate operations near the diving resort of Bohey Dulang and Mentabuan off Semporna town. Most of those arrested were Muslims, including teenagers and four women and an infant.
The Western Mindanao Command military headquarters in Zamboanga City which has control over half of the southern Philippines has not issued any statement about the arrest. The Filipinos were believed to have originated in Tawi-Tawi, one of five provinces under the impoverished Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao, where unscrupulous private boat operators illegally transport those who wanted to work in Sabah.
Boat operators charged as low as P5,000 to as high as P50,000 per passenger and share this to corrupt policemen in Sabah where there is a large community of Filipinos, mostly illegal Muslim immigrants working in different construction sites and palm oil plantations.
Many of those who illegally crossed into Sabah have no travel documents mainly because of the lack of government campaign and failure of the Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct an education drive in Tawi-Tawi and nearby province of Sulu to inform locals who want to go to Sabah on the procedure of getting a passport.
Malaysia has imposed a stricter security measure in Sabah, especially in the border, due to threats of Abu Sayyaf kidnappings and terrorism.
Abu Sayyaf militants have repeatedly raided resorts in Sabah many times over the past years and kidnapped Malaysian and foreigners alike and exchanged them for huge ransoms which they used in purchasing weapons and fund kidnappings and terror attacks in the Philippines.