Free passports to help deportees

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 September, 2002, 12:00am

Thousands of Filipinos deported from Malaysia began receiving free passports yesterday so they could go back there.

But it was not clear how many would be allowed to work.

The Foreign Affairs Department relaxed document rules for the deportees, now on the southern Philippine island of Bongao. Honesto Ramos, head of consular team, said birth certificates were not needed.

Sources said the waiving of the birth certificates rule was to accomodate hundreds of children of Filipinos who were born in Sabah. Malaysia does not grant automatic citizenship to those born there.

Mr Ramos said the deportees had to submit only three passport-size photos, a certificate from the Office of Muslim Affairs if a Muslim, and proof of deportation such as the boat manifest.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said one in three deportees wanted to return. 'Some left other family members there,' she said. 'Others had not been paid their salaries.'

Luis Cruz, the Philippine Consul General in Kuala Lumpur, said the deportees could go back 'as tourists' but would not automatically be able to work there. He said Malaysia's rules stipulated a six-month cooling off period before a worker could be rehired.

Labour Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas said that was not what Malaysian officials told her last week in Kuala Lumpur. She said those with re-entry work permits would be able to work at once.

Of Sabah's 2.4 million residents, 500,000 are thought to be undocumented Filipinos and 600,000 undocumented Indonesians. Nur Jaafar, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's crisis manager on the issue, estimated that 80,000 undocumented Filipinos were hiding in Sabah, fearing being jailed and caned.