MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Navy has deployed more ships in the Sulu Sea to facilitate humanitarian efforts and assist hundreds of Filipinos fleeing the violence in Sabah.
“We are eyeing an influx of returnees so our Navy ships, with supplies and personnel aboard, are now out there ready to assist them,” Maj. Franco Alano, acting spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said.
Eleven more vessels have been sent to the Sulu Sea, in addition to the 25 Navy ships patrolling the area.
The Navy initially deployed its transport and auxiliary ship BRP Tagbanua to Tawi-Tawi to pick up evacuees but request for the transport ship to dock in Sabah was denied by the Malaysian government.
The Navy vessels were also escorting smaller watercraft coming from Sabah to destinations in Mindanao.
Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic gave assurance yesterday that despite their large naval deployment in Sulu Sea, they still have enough vessels to protect the rest of the country.
“Our vessels’ distribution is not too thin. We have more than enough vessels to cover and patrol the country’s maritime domain,” Fabic said.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) acting Gov. Mujiv Hataman said 60,000 sacks of rice would be shipped to Tawi-Tawi to address an emerging food shortage in the province.
Mark Basaluddin, chairman of the Canelar barter association, said they are now looking at trading with other countries like Thailand, Indonesia or China to keep their businesses afloat.
“If we will not do that business might close,” he said.
But Lt. Commander Joemark Angue, a coast guard station commander, said the closure of routes to Sandakan would only be temporary. – With Mike Frialde, Roel Pareño, Christina Mendez, John Unson, Jose Rodel Clapano, Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Helen Flores