KORONADAL CITY(MindaNews/05 March) — Ranking officials in Tawi-Tawi appealed Tuesday for a peaceful end to the conflict in Sabah, Malaysia to prevent further loss of lives and its impact on the economy of the island-province.
Assemblywoman Dayang Carlsum Sangkula-Jumaide of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said economic activities are now heavily reeling from the conflict that has left at least 27 people dead, including eight Malaysian policemen, since hostilities erupted last Friday.
She urged both the Philippine and Malaysian governments and the Sultanate of Sulu to peacefully resolve the row as “60 to 70 percent of the economy of the province is now affected by the conflict.”
As of Tuesday morning however Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that aerial and ground attacks have been launched to flush out the “intruders” from Lahad Datu in Sabah. In ordering the offensive, Najib invoked the need to “safeguard the dignity and sovereignty of the nation as demanded by the rakyat (people)”. [see separate story]
“Our traders in Tawi-Tawi could no longer buy consumer goods in Sabah and those in Sabah could not bring their supplies here,” Jumaide told MindaNews on the phone.
“We are now suffering from a shortage of commodities,” she stressed.
She noted that 80 percent of the consumer goods traded in Tawi-Tawi comes from the neighboring Malaysian state of Sabah because of their proximity, and that the trade exchange between the two areas have been around for many decades already.
The products bought in Sabah and traded in Tawi-Tawi include rice, sugar, cooking oil, noodles, soap, lotion, and perfumes.
As a result of the supply shortage, Jumaide said that prices have gone up twice before the conflict started.
She particularly cited the spike in the price of diesel that rose to P75 to P80 per liter from P30 to P40 before.
Jumaide said that Philippine Navy boats have been deployed in the seas of Tawi-Tawi to provide border security as well as to prevent supporters of the Sultanate of Sulu to cross over to Malaysia.
“We are saddened by the bloody incident that could have been avoided if the concerned parties only thread the peaceful way to resolve the problem,” she said.
In a radio interview, Tawi-Tawi Gov. Sadikul Sahali confirmed that consumer goods in the province are running out of supply because of the conflict in Sabah.
“Our traders are buying stuff in Zamboanga (City) because they could no longer go to Sabah,” he said.
Sahali appealed to both the Philippine and Malaysian governments to resolve the standoff peacefully.
Ms. Jumaide said both the Philippine and Malaysian governments and the Sultanate of Sulu should sit down together and find a peaceful solution to the problem.
With tens of thousands of Filipinos in Sabah, Jumaide said they are anticipating the massive arrival of people in the province escaping the hostilities in Sabah.
Monday night, around 280 individuals from Sabah arrived by boat in Tawi-Tawi due to the escalating hostilities there, she said.
Tawi-Tawi is part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which also groups the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Sulu.
ARMM Acting Gov. Mujiv Hataman deployed a humanitarian team to Tawi-Tawi to look at the plight of deportees there. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)