NFA last option for Tawi-Tawi rice traders
DAVAO CITY, Philippines - As the tension in Sabah constrains the normal trading between merchants from Tawi-Tawi and Sandakan, the government is alarmed that food shortage and price hikes would cripple the southernmost tip of the country.
Prices of basic commodities such as rice and fuel started to jack up affecting fare rates and are already starting to hurt the local economy.
A rice trader in Bongao town, who requested anonymity, said supplies for the islands of Tawi-Tawi are still enough.
"There are still supplies of Sabah rice coming in. In fact, vessels from Sabah arrived this month carrying at least 50,000 sacks of rice," the trader said.
The price hikes, he said, are due to the expenses made by the traders to grease the palms of Malaysian authorities so that the vessels can safely pass through the border.
"This is an open secret here. As the conflict escalates, these traders must also give a larger amount of money to Malaysian authorities," the trader said.
But he confirmed that the trips of trading vessels are also decreasing because of the tightening of borders both from the security forces of the Philippines and Malaysia.
From its original price of P680 per sack, Sabah rice is now being sold from P750 to P800 per sack at the local market.
P50 to P100 will be added if the rice will be transported and sold at the smaller islands of Tawi-Tawi.
This is not also the first time that the local market of Tawi-Tawi experienced a threat on its supplies.
"We experience price hikes every year when Malaysian authorities conduct its annual operations against undocumented immigrants. This is the period of massive deportations," the trader said.
He shared that Sabah rice would even be sold at P1000 per sack in Bongao during massive deportations.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) acting governor Mujiv Hataman instructed the National Food Authority (NFA) in Tawi-Tawi to immediately commence releasing of rice to meet the demand of the local market.
But Tawi-Tawi governor Sadikul Sahali said NFA must first check its supply to ensure that the rice that would be dispersed in the area are good for human consumption.
Sahali urged NFA to publicly destroy their old stocks that may cause harm if consumed.
To avert possible rice shortage, Hataman said the national government is sending in support to augment the present supply in Tawi-Tawi.
The NFA warehouse in Bongao currently has a maximum capacity of 30,000 sacks of rice.
But unlike the markets in the other parts of the country, it is very rare to see retailers selling NFA rice in their outlets.
"The people in Tawi-Tawi are very particular when it comes to rice. That is why they choose Sabah rice. Aside from being affordable, the quality of Sabah rice is more superior compared to NFA rice," he said.
However, retailers are already planning to purchase rice from NFA if the supplies from Sabah would stop coming in.
"If the price of Sabah rice would already reach P1,200 per sack, we would definitely start buying rice from NFA," the trader said.
He said they would have no other options but to sell NFA rice if Malaysia would totally shut its doors to Filipino merchants.
Traders and entrepreneurs in Tawi-Tawi say they want the tension in Sabah to stop because armed conflict is bad for their business.
"We hope that the sultanate of Sulu will be given a chance. If this issue will be resolved, trading will be easier for us and the entire Bangsamoro," the trader said.
But as both forces continue to hold their ground in Sabah, traders are bracing for the worst. - Rappler.com