Ordeal in Malaysia

We have always enjoyed climbing mountains. Some people may call us crazy and ask what we get out of doing it. I guess it's just personal satisfaction. Somehow it makes us feel good about ourselves and make us one with nature. That's the whole idea behind our organization, the MESAU - Mountaineering & Exploration Society of Adamson University. - Leonell Nava

So on the 15th of March, 1986, the three of us, Dennis Rivera, Eric Mostajo and myself, decided to push through with the expedition out of the original six. You see, we have chosen to climb Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia since we have already climbed almost all of the popular mountains here in the country.

Prior to our journey, we consulted the Malaysian Embassy in Manila about the requirements that we need for the trip. We were entertained by Mr. Ani Mohammad Yusof, the second secretary of Information. He was very friendly and accommodating with us which made us feel safe and sure that everything was in order.

That Saturday, we left Manila aboard an inter-island vessel called MV Dona Marilou of the Sulpicio Lines bound for Zamboanga City. At this point, we were all busy imagining how great it would be climbing Mt. Kinabalu especially since it was out of the country.

Finally, we arrived in Zamboanga City that Monday at around 12:30 in the afternoon. Our stomach began growling by then se we had lunch at the small restaurant nearby called the Sariff Coffee Shop. Here, we met an old lady named Mrs. Tan who told us that she had a son-in-law in Bongao who could take us to Sandakan and then to Sabah.

At around 8:00 in the evening, we took a boat "Sampaguita Blossom" which would pass Bongao. While on board, we met a guy named Kint Salunoy from Cebu City. He told us that he was also bound for Sabah together with his uncle, Abdul Ahmid Saward and asked us if we would like to travel with them. At first, we hesitated to accept the offering considering that we just met them and we didn't know anything about them except what they have told us. But after some deliberation, we finally agreed as Abdul convinced us that it was cheaper to travel via Lahad Datu since we don't have to go to Sandakan anymore.

Danny de Asis, another companion of Kint, told us that we will be needing some police clearance since our passports and travel documents would not be honored. For a certain price, he said that he could easily facilitate these documents if we agreed to travel with them to Lahad Datu.
The ferry made stopovers in Jolo, Siasi and Bongao. After two days of travel, we finally arrived in Sitangkai. We stayed at a Badjao house where we met some more passengers also going to Lahad Datu.

We had promised to keep in constant communication with our relatives back home, so that evening, Dennis filed a telegram addressed to his brother informing him of our departure from Sitangkai the next day, March 20th.

At around 3:00 in the afternoon, we set out for Lahad Datu together with 18 other passengers who were all squeezed inside a small boat measuring only about one by eight meters with two small cranky engines.

Everyone was beginning to feel uncomfortable in the boat after more than eight hours of sea travel. A few of the passengers were beginning to complain and argue with Abdul when a bright light suddenly flashed all across our faces. We noticed the markings PX-30 on the side of the boat and several soldiers, with high calibered rifles aimed at us. It was the Malaysian Marine Police.

A loud voice shouted some orders in Malaysian but we couldn't understand what he meant. Fortunately, Abdul knew quite a bit of Malaysian so he translated to us that we have to stand up with our hands up in the air. The other passengers began to board the police boat with their hands still up so we decided to do the same.

We were asked to produce our travel papers and upon ascertaining that we had valid documents, the boat captain, probably, told us that everything was in order and that there was no need to worry. He then told us to get our backpacks from the other boat and suggested that we stay in the police boat with them. The others who couldn't produce valid travel documents were left on the small boat while it was being towed by the police boat.

The captain treated us very nicely. We were given biscuits and coffee by the crew and were permitted to sleep aboard. The captain advised us that upon arrival in Lahad Datu, we should seek the assistance of the local police and then proceed immediately to the Malaysia Immigration Office.

Early that morning, March 21, we landed in Lahad Datu. With all the other passengers, we were turned over to the local police at the "Balai Polis." Following the boat captain's advise, we talked with the officer-in-charge and showed him our travel documents. But it seemed as though the man did not understand English and instead. detained all of us without even bothering to check us out. We asked them why we were being detained but they did not answer and just ignored us.

At 4:00 in the afternoon, the three of us were taken out of our cell and in a police car, we were transported to the Police Headquarters Complex. Our backpacks were set aside and we were put inside a cell measuring only about six by six meters which was jampacked with sixty other prisoners who were all naked except for their underpants. Inspite of all the confusion, we still couldn't help but feel our stomachs growling because we haven't been given any food since morning while still in Balai Polis.

The next day, March 22, we spent the whole day in the cell which gave us a chance to mingle with the other prisoners much to our surprise, we found out that most of the prisoners there were also Filipinos like us, they did not know the reason for their imprisonment.
Very little food was given to us. For breakfast, we were given tea and some piece of bread. Two thin slices of cooked squash and some portions of fish with about half a cup of cooked rice for lunch and the same menu for supper.

Later that evening, a Chinese looking policeman came to our cell looking for us. In a loud, gruffy voice, he said, "Where are the three tourist?" We were not sure if he was referring to us so we just remained squatting on the floor. He looked around the prison and then focused his gaze on me. He walked closer to where I was, stopped after a few steps in front of us and then pointing to me, he said, "What education is difficulty, inside or outside?" I was not sure what he was asking and so I asked, "Pardon me sir?" Irritatingly, the guard repeated the question, "What education is difficulty, inside our outside?" I was afraid I would say the wrong thing, so I just kept silent.

Just then I saw the guard's right leg motioning to kick and before I could do anything to avoid it, I felt a sharp pain on my right hip. "You are a fourth year college student and you don't know how to understand English?" he growled and then hurriedly left.

It became very difficult for us to sleep. At the stroke of midnight, some policemen would come into our cell and for no reason at all, made fun of us and maltreated any prisoner close to their reach. At times, they would take a prisoner and bring him to the cell on the upper floor and start torturing him. Screams and moans of agony broke the midnight solemnity as we've waited for the time when we ourselves would be brought to the upper floor and be subjected to the same horrible tortures.

Inspite of all the despair that we felt, we still have a flicker of hope that these Malaysians would somehow listen to us and take some positive actions about our case. For the next few days, we pleaded with them to at least allow us to send word back to our relatives at home of our predicament so that they could do something about it. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to care and only made fun of us.

After four nights at the Police Headquarters, we were transferred back to the Balai Polis where we spent another two days. Then we were turned over to the Immigration Office.
Here, we found out that Abdul Ahmid Sawardi and Danny de Asis, the same people who convinced us to enter Sabah through Lahad Datu, have already been released.

We thought that it was going to be different here in the Immigration Office but much to our dismay, nothing was changed. If there were any changes, it was worse than before. One incident which really bothered us was when an Immigration officer with a name Harizaman, written on his name tag, shouted while brutally beating up a helpless detainee, "All Filipinos are liars! We don't need you in our country!" What did he mean when he said this? Are there Filipinos in Malaysia doing something wrong there which made them do this to us?In the morning of March 27th, a guard came into our cell and gave us back our backpacks, climbing gear, money, passports and other travel papers. After doing so, he turned to us and said that they were sorry for the inconvenience that they have brought upon us.

Instantly, our spirits were lifted and we thought for sure that we were being released. Unfortunately, they told us that we were just being transferred to Tawau for deportation back to the Philippines on any available trader boat. At least, we were on our way back home and that was probably the best news we have heard so far in our stay in Malaysia.

In Tawau, we spent most of our time in Sangai Pukol, an island off Tawau, in a boat called "Midstar." Early every morning, we were taken back to the Immigration Office Detention Center. According to the boat captain of Midstar, we were only waiting for some more passengers and a few supplies before we could get on our way.

At 11 AM of March 31, Mr. Said and Mr. Ho of the Immigration Office picked us up with some other prisoners from the detention center and took us to Tawau Penjara in Air Panas. A place we were told, which had several hot springs scattered around.

Before Mr. Ho left, we asked for his help and explained that we were supposed to be away for only a week and that we have to be back in time for our enrollment in school. We handed him our passports and travel papers and he was surprised that we had these documents and wondered why we were still being held. He told us that he would try to talk to his chief about our case and told us not to worry.

We were told to deposit all our valuables in the front desk.. It was here that I discovered that there were US$50 missing from my wallet but I could not recall where or when this happened.

I was just about ready to go into a dream when I heard this loud voice shouted some words in Bahasa Malaysian. The people around started stripping off their clothing down to their underwear so we did the same.

Corporal Chong, written on his name cloth, came a few steps and told me something in Malaysian. I though he was just remarking about my dick since that was where his eyes were focused so I just stood still hoping he would leave me alone. He raised up his hand and hit me on the head with the stick he was holding. Then he forced me to turn around and bend over. He seemed to be looking for something and when he was sure that there was nothing hidden, he went over to Eric and told him to do the same. Eric wasn't sure what to do and he took a long time to decide that Chong got impatient and hit him on the head. He was then forced to turn around and bend over as well. Dennis was smarter, he immediately turned and bent over so he was spared from any harm.
One person who really got the worst treatment of all was a 16-year old Filipino named Razis. Corporal Chong not only kicked Razis several times on different parts of his body but also slammed his face on a steel locker nearby. Still not satisfied, Chong gave Razis four sharp blows on the back of his head. Later, we learned that Razis was caught hiding a wristwatch inside his brief.

After inspection, Dennis and I were placed inside a cell with 37 other Filipino detainees. Eric, on the other hand, was separated from us and was placed in a cell with 33 other prisoners. We sparked up a conversation with the other detainees and we gathered that most of the prisoners there were rounded up for just being Filipinos. Some were caught disobeying curfew hours, while others were held for very minor offenses.

On our 6th day in the Air Panas prison, Dennis started to get ill. He was shivering uncontrollably and was coughing very badly. We advised him to ask the officers for some medicine but refused to do so because he was afraid that he might end up like one of our cellmates, Abdul Kanjang, who complained of a severe headache and instead of helping him out, the prison guard gave him a punch in the forehead before escorting him to the hospital. Part of our schedule in the prison was an afternoon exercise out in the basketball court under the scorching heat of the afternoon sun. We did some push-ups, duck walks, and several other workouts. We were also made to jog around the hot concrete floor barefoot for about 30 to 45 minutes and it didn't take long for our feet to become sore blistered.

As each day moved on, we felt even more worried and uncertain of our fate. How long are we going to stay inside this "hell house?" Will we ever see our parents and friends again? How long can we take all these punishments before our bodies give up on us? All these questions plagued our minds each and every second of the day. There were even times when we were almost afraid to know the answers to these questions.

On the 13th of April, while we were waiting in line for our lunch, one of the prisoners came to us and said, "Hey, I saw you guys on TV last night while watching the evening news." He was one of the more privileged ones who were able to watch TV. We were relieved to find out that our relatives back home were finally doing something about our disappearance. The prison guards were aware of this and they even showed us a newspaper with our pictures on it. They didn't seem to care and just made fun of us, remarking of how uglier we looked in person. Early in the afternoon of April 21, two prison guards came to our cell and took the three of us to the Immigration Office where they requested to see our travel documents and passports. We wondered if this was another one of those instances when we would feel that we were being released when we were actually not.

We were then given a chance to explain our side of the story and, in behalf of the three of us, Eric wrote a signed statement for this. At last, we were released from Tawau Penjara and were bought back to Manila. They told us that they received a call from the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur requesting for our immediate release and transport back to the Philippines. The immigration officer told us that they could have easily facilitated for our release had we shown them the papers earlier.

At 5:00, we boarded a barter boat, ML Freda, which took us to Simunol island where we were able to send word to our families of our safe arrival in the Philippines.

At around 5:30 of April 25th, we were finally able to set our feet back in Manila.

After all the drama and the celebration of our return, we settled back a bit and thought of the other Filipinos still languishing in the filthy jails of Malaysia. We thought of how they have to endure all those horrible punishments and the deplorable condition that they have to go through everyday. We thought of how they would have to satisfy themselves with the very little food that were given to them, barely enough to keep them alive. How they must feel uncertain and worried of what would become of them. All for reasons we still did not know. My friends and I, would like to invite everyone to join us in our quest for the release of all these innocent Filipinos. Let us do something about it.

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