Tawi-Tawi is an island province of the Philippines located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The capital of Tawi-Tawi is Bongao. The province is the southernmost of the country sharing sea borders with the Malaysian State of Sabah and the Indonesian East Kalimantan province. To the northeast lies the province of Sulu and to the west is Sabah in Malaysia. Tawi-Tawi also covers some islands in the Sulu Sea to the northwest, the Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi Island and the Turtle Islands, just 20 kilometers away from Sabah.


Sibutu remained under Spanish rule until 1900.

Tawi-Tawi was previously part of the province of Sulu. On September 11, 1973, pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 302, the new province of Tawi-Tawi was officially created, separate from Sulu. The seat of the provincial government was established in Bongao.

The name of Tawi-Tawi is a projection of the Malay word “jauh” meaning “far.” Prehistoric travelers from the Asian mainland would repeat the word as “jaui-jaui” to mean “far away” because of the distance of the islands from the continent of Asia. The word “Tawi-Tawi” was picked up to later become the official name of the province.


Agriculture, fishing, and agar-agar farming are the leading source of livelihood of the people of Tawi-Tawi, with quite a number engaged in the barter trade business. Copra is the top agricultural produce, followed by root crops, fruits, and vegetables.


Sanga-Sanga Airport, the main airport of the province, is located in the municipality of Bongao.

Cebu Pacific began operating daily flight from Zamboanga City to Tawi-Tawi Province on October 14, 2011, utilizing its 150-seater Airbus A319 aircraft. In 2012, Air Philippines also started operating flights to and from Zamboanga city.

A sea connection to other parts of the Filipino archipelago as well as an international route to Semporna, Malaysia also available from Bongao.

The oldest mosque in the Philippines can be found in Tawi-Tawi, as well as ethnic groups Sama, Jama Mapun, Tausug and Badjaos. It also serves as a gateway to Sabah, Malaysia.


Political map of Tawi-Tawi


Tawi-Tawi is subdivided into 11 municipalities:

  • Bongao is the capital of the province and a microcosm of religious and cultural diversity.
  • Languyan was created by then President Marcos for rebel leader Hadjiril Matba who decided to join the government fold in the 70s.
  • Mapun (Cagayan De Tawi-Tawi or Cagayan de Sulu)
  • Panglima Sugala was formerly known as Balimbing. However, after the EDSA Revolution, the word “balimbing” got a rather derogatory definition as a turncoat because of fruit’s many sides.
  • >Sapa-Sapa
  • Sibutu is home to the descendants of Malay royalty in Borneo and not necessarily associated with the Sulu royalty.
  • Simunul is the site of oldest Mosque in the Philippines and home of the revered Sheikh Makdum one of the early pioneers in the spread of the Islamic religion in the country.
  • Sitangkai the southernmost municipality in the country; known as “Venice of the South”
  • South Ubian
  • Tandubas
  • Turtle Islands are declared as turtle sanctuaries and protected areas in the Philippines.

Most of the municipalities are located on the islands in the Sulu Archipelago. Two of them, Mapun, and Turtle Islands lie in the Sulu Sea. The municipalities are further subdivided into 203 barangays.


Tawi-Tawi lies at the southwestern tip of the country. Irregular in shape, with splashes of white sandy beaches and rock-bound coasts, the province has 107 islands and islets with a combined land area of 1,197 km2 (462 sq mi).

The province has two seasons: dry and wet The climate is generally moderate. The wettest months are from August to November. The other months of the year are generally dry with occasional rain showers.


The main island of Tawi Tawi supports many endemic species and subspecies of vertebrates, invertebrates and plants unique to this island, plus some that are only shared with Sulu Province. These include the Tawi Tawi Brown-dove, the Sulu Hornbill and the Sulu Bleeding-heart, although this latter species may already be extinct. The rapid expansion of human settlements into forested areas together with clearance for agriculture in the last few decades has dramatically reduced the available habitat for most of the endemic species, many of which are now considered ‘Critically Endangered’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.