ARMM grapples with Malaysia move to close Sabah to Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi
DAVAO CITY – The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is trying to address the impact of Malaysia’s recent move to close its border in Sabah to the economies of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
The move to close the border was a result of the recent incidents of kidnapping of foreigners in Sabah allegedly by Abu Sayyaf bandits coming from Sulu.
Lawyer Laisa Alamia, ARMM executive secretary, has ordered ARMM government agencies to closely watch the prices and ensure steady supply of basic commodities in the three ARMM provinces, known to have been importing a significant volume of prime commodities from Sabah.
Reports said prices of rice sacks have hovered within the P1,000-to-P1,200 range, doubling its previous rate, because of the blockade. Alamia ordered the ARMM’s Department of Trade and Industry to intensify its weekly price monitoring of prime commodities, particularly those of rice and sugar, in the affected areas.
ARMM has also asked the National Food Authority to ensure that rice should be available in the three island provinces at regular prices, ranging from P600 to P650 per half sack.
“These provinces (Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) import a significant volume of prime commodities from Sabah, Malaysia,” Alamia said.
“With the blockade, reports have reached us that the price of rice in the affected provinces has doubled to a range of P1,000 to P1,200 per half sack,” she added.
ARMM also set up a task force to help repatriates from Malaysia and to ensure that services reach them on time, Alamia said. She said ARMM has tapped an initial P5 million from the ARMM governor’s special purpose fund for this purpose.
“We share the border with Sabah and this means we have a shared responsibility to keep the border safe as we open our shores to each other in trade and tourism,” Alamia said.
“We will work with the national government re-open the border for trading,” she added.
ARMM’s Social Welfare Secretary Rahima Alba said around 25,000 households in Tawi-Tawi have been on survival mode because of the blockade.
“What we are doing is to immediately help those affected by the Malaysian government’s blockade,” Alba said.
She said her office has distributed roughly P36 million to 8,000 family-beneficiaries of the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program (4Ps) in 35 barangays in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. She said the amount came from the 2014 and 2015 4Ps budget.
Aside from this, its provincial office distributed 10 kilos of rice each to 500 parent-leaders, day-care center leaders, and social pensioners under the supplementary feeding program.
Alamia said Alba said her department has coordinated with the Provincial Social Welfare Office of Tawi-Tawi on the validation and assessment of households most affected by the blockade.
In 2013 and 2014, around 60,000 undocumented Filipinos who were staying in Sabah were repatriated by the Malaysian authorities.
“More than the giving, we ensure the availability of all prime commodities in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi,” Alamia said. SFM
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