Sabah trade ban raises food prices, hunger fears in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi
The closure of Sabah to Filipino traders after the kidnapping of Malaysian sailors by the Abu Sayyaf last month is causing a food price crisis in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and fears of widespread hunger among the poorest residents.
Traders in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, who have been buying supplies for centuries from Sabah are now sourcing their rice, sugar, flour, cooking oil and noodles from far-away Zamboanga City.
The price of a 25-kilo sack of rice in the two provinces has soared from P620 to P1,100, a 50-kilogram sack of sugar previously costing P1,600 can now be bought at P2,900, cooking oil sells at P80 per liter instead of P60, and noodles cost P56 per kilo instead of P30.
Because of this, three non-governmental organizations – the Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women Association Inc., Tulung Lupah Sug, Inc., and Tarbilang Foundation, Inc. – appealed to the national government and to the leadership of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to monitor the situation in the two provinces while working for the resumption of trade with Sabah.
They urged government to provide urgent and targeted food aid to poor and vulnerable communities as an interim measure, while undertaking more measures to head off criminal and terrorist violence.
They also appealed to the Malaysian government to reopen Sabah to traders from the Sulu archipelago.
They said the Philippine government has already agreed to cooperate with Malaysia and Indonesia in patrolling the Sulu and Celebes Seas, provide immediate assistance to people and ships in distress, share information and intelligence, and establish a ‘hotline’ for better coordination during emergencies and security threats.
They added that the Philippine government is working for the release of Malaysians and Indonesians abducted by the Abu Sayyaf.
“We note the security challenges in the tri-border area and the necessity of making it safe for trade and travel. However, trade has to resume soon if we are to ensure the survival of the livelihoods of hundreds of small traders and the welfare of thousands of residents in the southern Philippines,” the three organizations said.