ZAMBOANGA CITY - Islamic culture similarities and barter trading of basic commodities prompt Muslims from Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi to habitually visit the Federal State of Malaysia.
A Sama-Badjao trader from Simunul town in Tawi-Tawi, who declined to be identified, said "Islamic culture" binds the Muslims from Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi in southern Philippines and the people of Malaysia like brothers and sisters.
Barter trading also adds closeness between them since the Muslims of the three provinces are supplying root crops like cassava and sweet potatoes to them.
Tropical fruits grown in the three provinces like durian, mangosteen, lanzones, jackfruit, as well as the native coffee grown in Sulu are also being sold to the Malays.
In exchange, the Malaysian traders sell to the Filipino Muslim traders of the three provinces canned goods, rice, noodles, textiles, and many others, including frozen foods, soft drinks, juice, mineral water, gasoline and diesoline.
Most of the trading are being done in Sampurnah, Sandakan, Labuan, Lahat Datu, and Kota Kinabalu.
The Filipino traders said products that they bought in Malaysia are being sold in their respective towns in a much lower price as compared to the price of goods they bought in the Philippines.
He cited as an example the price of "fancy rice" which they only sold at P470 per sack of 25 kilos in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. The price of rice in the Philippines with the same variety costs about P1,100 to P1,200 per sack of 25 kilos.
This is one of the reasons many Muslim Filipinos from the three provinces choose to do marketing and trading in Malaysia and not in Zamboanga City or Cebu City.
Their exchange in Islamic culture and barter trading has led Filipino Muslims to frequently visit and do trading with Sabah, Malaysia, as early as the 13th century, according to the source.
This is one of the reasons, he said, the currency of Malaysia are also circulating and accepted as legal tender in some towns in Tawi-Tawi.
"Many people living in Tawi-Tawi, particularly those that live near the Philippine-Malaysia border are using ringgit, the currency of Malaysia as legal tender.
Considering the centuries old trade and bilateral relations it has with Malaysia, an estimated 70 percent of the total population of the three provinces have relatives in Malaysia now, the source said.
He said residents of a village called Kampong Simunul in Lahat Datu and Tanduhao are Muslim Filipinos from the three provinces.
Now that there is a standoff in Malaysia between followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and the authorities of Sabah, trading is getting difficult and very soon, he said, the price of foodstuffs and other products that come from Malaysia will increase due to lack of supply.
He said that if the followers of Sultan Datu Kiram will continue to insist staying at Kampong Tanduo in the village of Felda Sahabat 17, many Muslim in the three provinces will suffer from the price hike of all basic commodities coming from Malaysia.
A massive deportation of Muslim Filipino migrants is also expected coupled with a possible ban in the barter trading.
He said the move of Sultan Kiram and his followers will greatly affect the lives of the Muslim Filipinos in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
As of now, he said, the people of the three province do not yet feel the effects of the standoff in Malaysia but very soon, if the situation will continue, prices of all goods will start increasing and many Muslim people from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi will have difficulty meeting their daily food requirements due to the price hike of the commodities.