Sulu-based women’s group: reopen the border between Sabah and Sulu

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 April)—A Sulu-based women’s organization has called on the Malaysian government to “immediately reopen” its borders in Sabah to travelers and commercial traders from southern Philippines, as it also called on the Philippine government to dialogue with Malaysia “to take collaborative and nuanced actions to address security and economic issues in its shared borders.”

In a statement sent to media outlets on April 16, the Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women Association Inc. said curbing criminal activity in the cross-border area that separates Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines is “not achieved by unilateral action, but requires joint policing, targeted punitive action, and the uniform application of laws against deadly shadow economies such as piracy and kidnap-for-ransom that plague these porous frontiers.”

Communities in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi already feel the brunt of the blockade with the spike in food and petroleum prices by as much as 70% as of April 16. “This has deep economic and social repercussions to the already strained condition in Mindanao brought about by the drought and the energy crisis,” the statement read.

“Worse, the competition over local and more expensive resources will have ominous implications to existing grievances and conflict dynamics in the Sabah-Sulu corridor,” it said.

The Malaysian government closed its Sabah border this week to protest the recent kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf of four Malaysian nationals from a ship off the east coast of Sabah, heading for Philippine waters.

The women’s group noted that Malaysia’s decision to close its border is “arbitrary, counter-productive, and will not bring about a long-term solution to the problem of criminal terrorism that Malaysia and the Philippines both face.”

It said the border closure “punishes legitimate businessmen, traders, including tourists and relatives of families living in Sabah who had no hand in the kidnapping, and are in fact victimized by the same piracy and other threats to their lives and livelihoods.”

“By closing its borders, Malaysia succumbs to the fear and threat of criminal extremism that the perpetrators wanted to create, a threat that should unite rather than tear us apart,” the statement read.

Although acknowledging the closure is but a temporary response, the women’s group said it “unduly strains the fraternal and friendly relations between our countries—a solidarity nurtured too by the positive interaction and engagement between small traders, especially women, who possess strong ties of friendship with their Malaysian counterparts.” (MindaNews)