Tawi-Tawi ‘never a safe haven’ for militants


Turtle Island Mayor Faizal (left) with Governor Yshmael Sali.

TAWI-TAWI: The reported abduction of ten Filipino (Bajau Laut) fishermen in Lahad Datu, last Tuesday morning will not affect the desires of all the newly elected provincial and municipal officials to boost economic opportunities for the southernmost island province of Tawi-Tawi.

Spearheaded by its Governor-elect Yshmael Sali and strongly supported by all the eleven island municipal elected mayors and their respective councillors, the new administration remains focused in improving infrastructure and strengthen peace and security leading to a more business-friendly environment.

“Governor Sali is very much concerned about the recent abduction incident executed by suspected members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf militants, known for carrying out kidnap-for-ransom activities both at home and neighbouring Sabah,” Turtle Island municipal Mayor Haji Faizal Jamalul said.

No group had claimed responsibility as of press time and it was not immediately clear if the Sulu-base Abu Sayyaf Group was involved.

Speaking after attending a two-day orientation and training activity organised by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in Cotabato held during the weekend, Faizal and Sali expressed regret that the incident again brought negative perception to the peace-loving Tawi-Tawians (natives) and the province in general.

He said the province is blessed with many tourism potentials, abundance of marine life products and rich with coal minerals, to name a few.

Apart from being known as the most peaceful province of BARMM, he said Tawi-Tawi was never identified as safe haven for Abu Sayyaf, foreign terrorists, and other criminals.

The newly established BARMM (formerly ARMM) consists of five Muslim dominated provinces, namely Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.

Faizal who is also the Mindanao chairman for the BIMP-EAGA Business Council (BEBC) noted that Abu Sayyaf had been using the geographical location of Tawi-Tawi as an escape route every time they execute kidnapping activities or heinous crimes in Sabah.

“Kidnappers and criminals would normally stop over and hide in the many islets in Tawi-Tawi after committing crimes in Sabah for re-fuel purposes before proceeding to their destinations in Sulu or Basilan provinces,” Faizal explained, adding that the vast coastal lanes of the Sulu Sea had made it difficult for the local uniformed authorities to timely detect their presence.

He vowed to enhance security in Turtle Islands (Taganak) and strengthen its co-operation with Sabah authorities as a deterrent measure.

“My municipality (Turtle Islands) is less than an hour boat ride from Sandakan and I do not wish to see criminals and terrorists using my place as escape route for them now and in the future,” he stressed.

“If bloodshed is needed to protect my people, community, Tawi-Tawi, and our friendly Sabah neighbour, so be it!” Faizal said.

On the recently concluded orientation cum training, the event organised by the BARMM Ministry of Interior and Local Government last June 16-17 was attended by all the newly-elected local chief executives (LCEs) across the region.

It was designed to orient the local officials on the basics of governance, what laws or ordinances they need to enact, special bodies to organize, what steps to take before actually assuming their elected posts.

The activity, anchored on the theme “Creating Synergy in the Bangsamoro Towards Moral Governance,” encourages participating LCEs to give inputs on the Islamic perspective on leadership and management, salient features of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) on local governance, and deconstruction of the poverty incidence in the BARMM.

The training of the newly-elected officials was considered as a first of its kind in the region, where the trainees participate in a series of dialogues focusing on nutrition, education, revenue generation, child-friendly local governance, and peace and order.

BARMM interim Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, who opened the activity on Saturday (June 15), stressed the need of having continued discussions with local government units (LGUs) in achieving the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

“It is very important that we have a talk like this, in order to understand everybody and in order to have one common line,” Ebrahim said, adding that more gatherings of such are expected to take place in the future with the LGUs.