Halaw, a Malayo word, literally means to “cast out, to eject, to throw away.” This word came to the nation’s consciousness when in mid-August of 2002, thousands of undocumented Filipino workers were deported from Malaysia. They were called halaw, an apt description considering the often-forcible means of their removal from an unwelcoming country.1
The halaw is not a recent phenomenon. It had its beginnings when people from Tawi-Tawi and neighboring provinces risked crossing the ocean in search of work and to engage in buying and selling of goods (Dañguilan-Vitug and Yabes, 1998). Trading was good and lucrative; taxes were not imposed. Thus, there was a strong lure for people to venture. The clandestine buying and selling peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, with cigarettes as the most popular item being smuggled to the country. Barter trade stalls proliferated in Zamboanga carrying goods produced in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The steadily increasing influx of people to Malaysia, most heavily in Sabah, went on over the years. The coming and going was mostly illegal and there were sporadic cases of migrants being sent back. Yet the streams of movement from Tawi-Tawi to Sabah remained unabated; Tawi-Tawi then came to be known as the “southern backdoor” of migration to nearby islands.
In 1997, the issuance of a border pass was considered a significant act to legitimize migration. The pass bearing the stamp of the Philippine Immigration Office allowed a Filipino to stay for a maximum of thirty days in the eastern part of Malaysia, including Sandakan, Tawau, Semporna, and Lahad Datu (Dañguilan-Vitug and Yabes).