Price cap up for goods in Tawi-Tawi

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/13 March)— Price control measures are being put in place in the island-province of Tawi-Tawi in the aftermath of the Sabah crisis that triggered an increase in prices of basic commodities in the area due to dwindling supplies, an official said Wednesday.

Hadja Pombaen Karon-Kader, assistant secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said that the crisis committee composed of acting ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman and Tawi-Tawi Gov. Sadikul Sahali convened Tuesday to discuss price control regulations.

“There’s a noted increase particularly in the prices of diesel and gasoline which the crisis committee wants to cap,” she told MindaNews on the phone.

Kader said that the committee is continuously negotiating for access to Sabah for traders of consumer goods to supply the needs of Tawi-Tawi residents.

Trade activities between Tawi-Tawi and Sabah have been cut following clashes that erupted on March 1 between Malaysian forces and the armed followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

Kiram’s followers landed in Lahad Datu in Sabah in the second week of February to assert the claim of the Sulu Sultanate’s to the area.

Kader said that the National Food Authority has enough rice stocks in Tawi-Tawi to beef up the dwindling supply of the commodity.

“There is no shortage of food yet in the area. Ensuring enough food supplies for the consumers, aside from regulating the prices of basic commodities, is among the things the crisis committee is working out,” she noted.

Her pronouncement contradicted that of Tawi-Tawi Assemblywoman Dayang Carlsum Sangkula-Jumaide, who said on March 5 that the province was suffering from shortage of commodities.

Jumaide placed the impact of the Sabah crisis to the economic activities in the province at 60 to 70 percent.

“Our traders in Tawi-Tawi could no longer buy consumer goods in Sabah and those in Sabah could not bring their supplies here,” she said then.

Jumaide pointed out that 80 percent of the consumer goods traded in Tawi-Tawi comes from neighboring 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.

Jumaide particularly cited the spike in the price of diesel that rose to P75 to P80 per liter from P30 to P40 before.

Fresh wave of evacuees

Kader said that some 500 individuals had arrived in Tawi-Tawi on Tuesday to escape the tension in Sabah but this is still subject for verification.

She noted that DSWD-ARRM is having difficulties establishing the exact number of evacuees since they “would arrive on their own, land in different islands of the province, with some just numbering about five passengers in a small banca.”

Kader appealed to the local government units in accounting the refugees to help the government provide them with food assistance.

Since March 5, she said that Filipino civilians fleeing Sabah “would reportedly arrive in batches of 300 to 400 individuals.”

But so far, Kader said that DSWD-ARMM has documented only 1,079 evacuees in Tawi-Tawi and that their situation remains manageable, with assistance coming from the national, regional and provincial governments.

On Tuesday, Malaysia granted the Philippine government access to Sabah, where an estimated 800,000 Filipinos have been living.

Kader said that the regional government is continuing negotiations for its team to gain access to the towns of Lahad Datu, Tawau and Semporna.

Tawi-Tawi belongs to the ARMM, which also groups the island-provinces of Basilan and Sulu, and inland Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)