Sabah barter trade ban hits poor Filipinos hard

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PETALING JAYA: Prices of goods have soared in southern Philippines after the Malaysian government introduced a barter trade ban between Sabah and the Philippines in March.

Channel News Asia reported it was impossible for Filipinos in Mindanao to make ends meet now that prices of basic commodities had risen by 150% or more.

Nuria Malagday, who shops regularly at a market in Tawi Tawi in southern Mindanao, said she used to be able to buy a sack of rice for the equivalent of US$12 (RM53), but the price had nearly doubled in recent months.

She said the average day’s earnings by her son, a tricycle driver and the sole breadwinner, was not enough to feed her and 10 children.

“When my husband died, my children were still young. We survived because one of my children is a tricycle driver.

“If he earns (enough) money in a day, we can buy at least 3kg of rice. We make porridge out of it. If he earns less, they (my children) just drink water and then sleep.”

The barter trade ban took effect following several kidnappings of Malaysian sailors, believed to be by Abu Sayyaf, in the waters between Sabah and Tawi Tawi.

With more than 70% of Tawi Tawi’s economy dependent on its trade with Sabah, the barter trade ban has significantly affected the traders and fishermen who had previously sold to Malaysians willing to pay better prices.

Honoria Malagday, who has been selling rice for nearly 30 years, said the current price were the highest she had experienced.

She has to increase the price due to the higher logistical costs as she now has to get her goods from Zamboanga in the Philippines or Labuan in Malaysia.

“There are a lot of poor people here in Tawi Tawi. Those who bought one sack of rice before can now only afford to buy half a sack of rice.”

Fisherman Aidrus Unnoch’s income has shrunk from US$1,000 to US$300. This is because he now sells to locals, instead of Malaysians.

“The Malaysians will buy these fish at a high price. Before, we could enter there carrying anything, but now it’s hard,” he said.

“That’s why no one tries to go there. Now, I have to sell to the local market at a fraction of the price (Malaysians used to pay). It also takes longer to ship it to the other Philippine islands. When I lose freshness, I lose value.”

The local municipality is appealing to both the Philippines and Malaysian governments to lift the trade embargo.

“Barter trade was something of a tradition here. We are not terrorists, but we’re the ones suffering,” said Nazrullah Masahuo, the provincial director of the trade and industry department.