5 March 2013
Sen. Pia: Prioritize the safety of Filipino women, children and elderly caught in Sabah conflict
Senator Pia S. Cayetano today backed government efforts to extend humanitarian aid to Filipinos affected by the escalation of violence in Sabah, particularly women, children and the elderly whose lives have been put at risk by the conflict.
“Women, children and the elderly are the most vulnerable sectors and would need to be prioritized in times of crisis such as disasters, and in this case, an armed conflict,” said Cayetano, who chairs the Senate Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations.
The senator said she is hopeful that the mission of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, who is currently in Kuala Lumpur, would succeed in facilitating government efforts to ensure the safety of affected Filipinos and bring home the women, children and elderly who were reportedly part of Sultan Kiram Jamalul III’s group that had encamped in Lahad Datu three weeks ago to press their claim to Sabah.
“I am concerned by reports quoting Sec. Del Rosario and sources from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Tawi-Tawi that the group of Sultan Kiram’s supporters who had holed up in Lahad Datu and who are now being hunted down by Malaysian forces included an indeterminate number of women and children,” she said.
“Their lives have been put at risk with the escalation of violence there,” she added, while noting that a woman was among Kiram’s followers who were killed in Friday’s clash at Lahad Datu.
“I also hope that no minor is being used to become combatants or to take support roles in this armed conflict,” she stressed.
Cayetano explained that it is government’s duty to respect children’s rights as a state party to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, under its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts, to which the Philippines acceded in August 2003.
The Philippine government earlier deployed a Philippine Navy ship to Lahad Datu to provide humanitarian assistance to Filipinos in Sabah, but the vessel was reportedly refused entry by Malaysian border patrols. The note verbale of Sec. Del Rosario to the Malaysian foreign minister included a request to allow the navy ship and the humanitarian contingent to enter Sabah. #
Photo: Map of Sabah showing Lahad Datu courtesy of www.cuti.my