KOTA KINABALU: Sabah police commissioner Ramli Din has dismissed a report that stateless children born in Sabah had left and joined thousands of “child warriors” during the Marawi war in southern Philippines last year.
The report, by the Manila Times, had cited an unnamed source as saying that “some Sabah-born stateless Muslim children of Filipino descent returned to the Philippines through the porous borders of Mindanao” and fought in Marawi.
“There’s nothing to that news report. We have not received any report on the matter,” Ramli said when contacted by FMT.
The report, which was published earlier this month, also cited an anonymous advocate for stateless persons of Filipino descent as saying there were more than 400,000 stateless children of Filipino descent in Sabah.
“They have either undocumented or stateless parents working in the low-paying informal sector in Sabah,” the report said.
“This means that about 99% of these stateless children of Filipino descent are unable to attend public schools in Sabah, a Malaysian state to which the Philippines has historic claims.
“Less than 1% of these stateless children can be absorbed by three alternative learning centres, only one of which is recognised by the Malaysian government.”
The report said the stateless children provided “another stream” of “child warriors in Marawi”, apart from some 2,000 local children it said had been recruited by pro-Islamic State (IS) groups in the conflict.
There was one confirmed case of a Malaysian teen fighting in Marawi with his militant father, Amin Baco, who is from Tawau.
FMT broke the story in October last year after talking to a former hostage.
College teacher Lordvin Acopio said Amin and his son had always stayed together and spent most of their time at the frontline fighting Philippine troops.
Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun later confirmed that Amin had returned from southern Philippines to Tawau to pick up his son as early as 2015.
Following the official cessation of military operations to flush militants out of the city in late October, federal counter terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay announced that Amin’s son had survived the battle and gone to Basilan.
Basilan was the base of Marawi siege leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was IS’ emir designate for Southeast Asia and also Amin’s father-in-law.
The latest report by the Philippine media said Amin was believed to be holed up in the mountains off Sulu’s Patikul town under the protection of another Filipino father-in-law, Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Sawadjaan, who was previously believed to have been killed.
More than 1,100 people, mostly militants, were killed in the five-month Marawi siege, which was an attempt by IS-affiliated groups to create a so-called caliphate in the region.