COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Relief workers have documented a total of 1,079 Filipino evacuees from Sabah while hundreds more could have entered the country through the remote island towns far from the provincial capital, officials said.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman, presiding chairman of the ARMM’s disaster management and mitigation council, said workers of the regional social welfare and health departments are now attending to the needs of the evacuees.
Hataman, citing feedback by local officials, said a total of 1,531 Filipinos from Sabah have evacuated to Tawi-Tawi province since the fighting between the Sulu Sultanate's army and Malaysian authorities brokeout in Lahad Datu two weeks ago.
He said 1,079 of the evacuees have been fully processed by social welfare workers.
“But all of them, documented or those still being processed, are now receiving food, medicines and other provisions they need,” Hataman said.
Hataman said that the impact on the economy of the crisis in Sabah has spread from Tawi-Tawi to other provinces in the autonomous region.
“Merchants in Tawi-Tawi get the food supplies they sell to people in the province from Sabah, which is very near to them,” Hataman said.
Tawi-Tawi Vice Gov. Ruby Sahali, who is helping oversee the operations of the provincial and ARMM’s joint crisis management committee focusing on the influx of evacuees, said about 80 percent of the consumer goods sold in stores in the provincial capital and in trading centers in surrounding island towns come from Sabah.
Petroleum products from Sabah peddled by traders in Tawi-Tawi were, in fact, 20 to 30 percent cheaper than those sold in fuel retail stations in other Mindanao provinces before the crisis in the mineral-rich island state erupted.
Prices of consumer goods, fuel, and even rice, which also come from Sabah, that local stores sell have increased by several folds during the past two weeks, according to Sahali.
The provincial government of Tawi-Tawi and the office of the ARMM’s local government secretary, lawyer Makmod Mending, Jr., are jointly validating the reported landings in remote island towns of small sea vessels carrying evacuees.
“The conflict in Sabah also has very serious ramifications on the economy of Tawi-Tawi, and even some islands in Sulu,” Hataman said.
Hataman said the safety of innocent Filipino non-combatants in Sabah and the stability of the economy in Tawi-Tawi are among the key concerns that the national government is considering in trying to prevent an outbreak of hostilities between the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and the Malaysian security forces.
The regional governor, however, said Malacañang’s efforts to prevent any bloodshed fizzled out when the family of Kiram declined to a dialogue with high Malaysian security officials on the Sabah standoff, after all the preparations initiated by the national government.
“There was already an 8-seater jet that was to fly us, along with a representative of the Kiram family, to Malaysis for that dialogue, but they changed their mind. Then we were overtaken by many events, until the hostilities erupted, which President Aquino painstakingly tried to prevent,” Hataman said.