Business & Economy

Tawi-Tawi, Sabah trade to resume

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ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Trade between ports in Tawi-Tawi and in neighboring Sabah, Malaysia will resume early next week following the establishment of a Temporary Passport Enrollment Center (TPEC) under the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

 

 The center will provide travel documents for Filipinos entering the Malaysian state.

“We are only waiting for the release of our passports. Maybe next week, we can travel,” Redentor W. Lauddin, chairman of the Tawi-Tawi Boat Owners and Traders Association, told BusinessWorld in a phone interview yesterday.

Sabah is just a few hours by motor boat from the province.

Traders and shippers have suspended their trips to Sabah since April after the Malaysian government imposed a new policy over foreign crewmen entering ports in Sabah.

That month, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry sent a note verbale to the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur that, effective April 15, “all crews of barter trade ships or vessels will be required to produce valid travel documents, i.e. international passport or seaman book, at all entry ports in Sabah.”

The policy was triggered by an armed conflict in mid-February, when more than 200 members of the so-called Royal Army of the Sulu Sultanate and North Borneo sailed to Sabah to reclaim the territory as their ancestral homeland.

The incident triggered a standoff, eventually leading to a firefight, killing more than 60 Sultanate followers and eight members of Malaysian forces.

In the past, barter traders and shippers in Tawi-Tawi only needed a seaman identification card from Malaysian authorities to get their supplies of goods from Sabah sources. But, this is no longer issued to the crews of barter trade ships or vessels without valid travel documentation.

Shippers in Tawi-Tawi earlier complained that getting all the necessary permits, including passports, would entail huge costs since the shippers would have to travel to DFA offices outside the region. Hence, they asked for the government’s intervention.

In a statement, the DFA regional office here said it established the TPEC at the One-Stop Processing Center (OSPC) in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, to cater not only to traders but also to Sabah deportees and displaced persons.

Hassan Gabra Jumdain, regional director of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and head of the OSPC operations in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, said the establishment of the passport processing center was the result of meetings and consultations with different member-agencies involved the OSPC and a Memorandum of Agreement signed on April 30.

“The undertaking was a joint effort of the Department of Labor and Employment, OWWA, Department of Social Welfare and Development, DFA, Crisis Management Committee, and the provincial government of Tawi-Tawi,” Mr. Jumdain said.

Passport applicants being accommodated include deportees and displaced persons who plan to return to Sabah for re-employment, regular passport applicants, Hajj applicants, and crew members of sea vessels engaged in barter trading.

The statement said the processing center has already served more than 600 passport applicants. “Traders in Tawi-Tawi are optimistic because our trade with Sabah will be legal,” Mr. Lauddin said.

In Bongao alone, there 200 crew members that regularly travel twice a week to Sabah. “We have more than 500 crews in the entire Tawi-Tawi,” Mr. Lauddin said.

At least 80% of Tawi-Tawi’s commodities, such as rice and sugar, are sourced from Sabah due to proximity. 

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