BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines – The Philippine Navy ship that carried evacuees from Sabah was supposed to dock at the port here at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Its 523 passengers, all tired from the trip from the island of Taganak in the Turtle Islands that started at 1 p.m. Tuesday, had to wait a few more hours as the ship’s docking had to be timed with the arrival here of Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II.
Jazmer Arquiza, his wife Imee and their three children—ages 4, 1 and 3 months—were among those who boarded the ship BRP Sultan Kudarat on Taganak. The couple said the boat slowed down and stopped in mid-sea for about four hours Tuesday night.
“We fell asleep while waiting for the ship to sail again,” Imee said.
Sherilyn Viado, another evacuee, said the same thing.
As early as Tuesday night, the Philippine Daily Inquirer had learned from sources about the plan to have the ship dock in time for Roxas’ arrival. True enough, as if on cue, Roxas was at the port when the ship docked at 9:30 a.m.
Viado said that if the ship had sailed at its normal speed, they would have arrived in Bongao before 6 a.m.
At the port, several local officials told the passengers not to come down because Roxas was going to board the vessel. However, Roxas, visibly displeased at the turn of events, instructed the boat’s crew to disembark the evacuees.
“Hindi na tayo aakyat, hayaan na muna nating makababa ang mga evacuees (We’re not going up anymore; let the evacuees disembark first),” he said.
Military and local officials, who asked not to be identified, said asking all the passengers to get off the ship was not even part of the plan as only six of them were bound for Tawi-Tawi.
“The plan was to drop them in Bongao, then proceed to Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga,” the military source said.
Asked if he asked for the “timely” docking of the ship, Roxas answered, “Intriga lang yon (That’s just intrigue) and I don’t even want to respond to that.”
Roxas said the evacuees were to be processed in Bongao “because we want to ensure they are healthy before they will be sent back to their respective destinations.”
Dr. Rowell Quiogue, who attended the evacuees before they left the Turtle Islands, said some of the passengers had colds and cough.
“Marami ring matatanda na inaatake ng high blood (Many are old and suffering from high blood pressure),” Quioque said.
Meanwhile, after checking the public market in Bongao, Roxas announced that there was no food shortage.
“There is no food shortage here. Sa ngayon, walang food shortage at walang delay sa food supplies (As of now, there is no food shortage and no delay in food supplies),” he said.
Roxas said the National Food Authority had enough rice of about 15,000 sacks. Tawi-Tawi consumes an estimated 2,500 sacks daily, he added.
“If we need more, we will get more rice from NFA in Pagadian City, in Zamboanga City and even from Region 4 and Batangas. Sisiguraduhin namin na may sapat na supply ng bigas We will make sure there is enough rice),” he said.
Governor Sadikul Sahali said they were still waiting for a Navy boat, loaded with 1,000 sacks of rice, to arrive from Zamboanga City.
“We don’t have that much supply because traders from Malaysia can’t get through,” Sahali said.
Hussin Alih, a rice trader at the public market, said prior to the standoff in Lahad Datu, a 25-kilogram sack of rice cost P600 to P650. “Now it has gone up to P750 up to P800.”
He said traders were having difficulties transporting goods from Malaysia.
“We can buy only as much as 20 sacks, sometimes less,” he said.