Unprecedented rice price hike in Tawi-Tawi due to Sabah embargo
MANILA, Philippines - The price of rice in the province of Tawi-Tawi has almost doubled due to an ongoing embargo of goods from Sabah, Malaysia, where the rice is imported from, according to several sources on Thursday, April 28.
The price of Sabah rice, which is preferred by many Tawi-Tawi residents, rose from P600 ($12.83) to P930 ($19.89) for 25 kilos. The price of NFA rice, which is supplied by the Philippine government, is currently fluctuating at P1,300 ($27.80) per 50 kilos.
“The price of rice rose because Malaysia put the exportation of rice from Sabah on hold due to the kidnapping of 4 Indonesians,” a police inspector, who declined to be named, said.
On April 16, four Indonesian crew members of a Malaysian tugboat, TB Henry, were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen off the coast of Tawi-Tawi.
According to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, the attack happened as the ship was heading to Tarakan to Borneo island from Cebu, Sunstar reported.
“Sunrise/Triple A brands now cost P800 plus, before it was just around P600. NFA rice quality is not so good because it’s been stocked for so long,” Jumbaula Gulam, a store owner said.
Gulam added: “The price rose because our traders are being blocked by the Malaysian government. The Tawi-Tawian traders in Sabah are currently being held on hold. Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and Siasi spend millions in buying goods from Sabah so hopefully the embargo won’t last long.”
Located at the southernmost tip of the Philippines, Tawi-Tawi is an archipelagic group of islands near Sabah. Most of the goods in the province come from Sabah due to its close proximity, unlike the Zamboanga peninsula which is many hours away by boat. (READ: The problems in Tawi-Tawi, according to its youth)
Impact on elections
Some Tawi-Tawi residents fear that the rising price of rice and other goods in the province will be used for vote-buying come election day. (READ: Is Tawi-Tawi ready for tourism?)
“We can’t blame voters who will accept money from politicians because many people don’t have livelihood and jobs. Plus, the prices of goods are continuously increasing,” Shainraida, a school teacher, noted.
Bapah Abdin, a seaweed farmer, noted how difficult it is to make a living in the province.
“It’s hard to make a living now. Agar-agar (seaweed) is only sold at P19. Some of the seaweed and our crops die because of the drought. Plus, rice is expensive now. We’re only alive because God wills it,” Abdin said.
As of this writing, local NFA and government officials have not responded to Rappler's requests for comments. — With reports from Keith Pon, Maria Theresa Gonzales, and Shamad Unding/Rappler.com