The ongoing armed conflict in Sabah appears to have opened a can of worms for Malaysia as hundreds of Filipino immigrants, now back in their homeland, are recounting horror tales of torture and sexual abuses inflicted for years on their community here. Bantilan Esmail II, a brother of Sulu “Sultan” Jamalul Kiram III, said the stories did not even surprise him as Malaysian authorities have allegedly been abusing Filipinos in Sabah long before the Sulu incursion began. Esmail, who is in talks with the Philippine government over a possible pullout of the Sulu “army” in Sabah, said that while the alleged abuses were “un-Islamic”, they were common knowledge in the Philippines. “They have been treating the Filipinos there not as human beings. What they are doing is un-Islamic and are acts of non-believers of Islam,” he said in a report in The Philippine Daily Inquirer today. Malaysian security forces and a group of armed followers of the Kiram clan have been locked in gunbattles since March 1 in the coastal district of Sabah’s Lahad Datu, where the Sulu Sultanate’s army had landed to lay claim over the east Malaysian state. The fierce gunfights have so far claimed the lives of 63 individuals, including 54 Sulu gunmen, eight Malaysian policemen and one teenage boy, and spurred thousands of Filipinos living in Sabah to flee back to their homeland out of fear of capture. According to the media in the Philippines, more than 1,000 Filipinos have already left their homes in Sabah, many of whom are MyKad holders, carrying with them horror tales of abuse and arbitrary killings during raids by Malaysian authorities to hunt down Sulu sympathisers. The Inquirer carried an interview last weekend with a 32-year-old Filipino named Amira Taradji who alleged that her brother had been killed at the hands of the Malaysian police during their rounding-up of suspected supporters. “They dragged all the males outside the house, kicked and hit them,” she told the daily in a phone call from Patikul, Sulu, shortly after she arrived in the Philippines last Friday night along with some 200 other refugees. Taradji claimed that Malaysian security forces stormed villages in the coastal constituency of Sandakan where she was staying on Monday night, and in the ordeal, her brother Jumadil was allegedly gunned down after he was forced by the police to run as fast as he could. Like Esmail, Taradji’s abuse claim was similarly described as old news and just the “tip of the iceberg”, the Manila Bulletin reported today, quoting an official of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The source said Filipinos in Sabah, particularly those who were undocumented migrants, have always been complaining of abuse but no attention has ever been paid to their claims. “Finally, the sufferings of Filipinos in Sabah drew notice from Malacañang. We got similar, if not harsher, complaints directly from victims and made appropriate reports to higher authorities to no avail years ago,” the official reportedly said.