YEARENDER: Investor confidence growing for Bangsamoro region

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COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/30 December)–Investor confidence in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which will be replaced by the Bangsamoro government “early next year,” has never been as bullish as this year.

The growing interest from foreign and domestic investors was largely attributed to the strides made in the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which unfolded on a bright note this year with the signing last March 27 of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

The CAB, the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF, was sealed after 17 years of negotiations that spanned four presidents (Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno S Aquino III).

Investments come in trickles for the impoverished Muslim region during those dark periods, until the recent years, when the GPH-MILF peace process made significant inroads brought about by the absence of deadly skirmishes on the ground, thanks to the effective role of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), headed by Malaysia which is also the third party facilitator in the talks.

Since 2012, there have been no armed skirmishes between government and MILF forces, although there were recorded cases of complaints from both sides such as the uncoordinated massing or movements of troops.

With stability on the ground, the peace panels were able to focus on the negotiating table, initially sealing the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro on October 15, 2012, the document that committed both parties to create the Bangsamoro government to replace the ARMM.

Thereafter, investor confidence in the ARMM, the core territory of the proposed Bangsamoro region, notably started to gain ground, which was also coupled, to some extent, by the governance reform initiatives of Mujiv Hataman, who was appointed by Aquino as acting governor in December 2011 and who won a three-year mandate in the 2013 elections.

As of December 20, 2014, the ARMM’s Regional Board of Investments (RBOI) registered investments worth P3.867 billion, an unprecedented feat in the impoverished region’s 25-year history, which is more than double the figure recorded in 2013.

“This latest investment may prove that investments in the ARMM is not a flash in the pan or a freak phenomenon but may have staying power provided relative peace and order prevail in the region with the combined beneficial effects of the peace process and good governance initiatives by the regional government,” said Ishak Mastura, RBOI chair.

He noted that investing in the ARMM “is becoming a trend,” citing the investments recorded each quarter since last year.

In 2013, the RBOI registered investments amounting to P1.463 billion, a 157 percent increase as compared to 2012’s P569 million.

Registered investments in the ARMM from 2012 to date were mostly in agribusiness, renewable energy and mining.

Based on its record for 2014, among the registered investments include the Pax Libera Mining Inc. (P495 million) and Darussalam Mining Corp (P192.87 million) in Languyan, Tawi-Tawi; Bangsamoro Oil and Fuels Corp. (Php 85.85 million) in Parang, Maguindanao; and Al Mujahidun Agro-Resources and Development, Inc. (P570 million) in Ampatuan Maguindanao.

The RBOI also registered Lamsan Power Corp. (P921 million) in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao; Green Earth Enersource Corp (P366 million), a subsidiary of Agumil Philippines, Inc., in Buluan, Maguindanao; and Philippine Trade Center (P486 million) in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, among others.

Mastura expressed hopes the interest of investors in the ARMM will continue in the coming years.

Next year, the RBOI hopes to also approve investments in biomass power generation, an oil depot in Tawi-Tawi and agricultural plantation investments such as banana, oil palm and buckwheat or soba noodles, he said.

For his part, Hataman, who expressed support to the creation of the Bangsamoro government, believed that the institutional reforms they initiated helped attract investors to the region, aside from the positive strides in the GPH-MILF peace process.

During his recent State of the Region Address—probably his last since the Bangsamoro government will replace the ARMM “next year”—he noted that the region has accumulated a total of P5.4 billion since 2012.

“We were able to change the negative perception on the region,” he said, noting ARMM has redeemed itself from being labeled a “failed experiment into a working government and an emerging place of growth.”

Next year, the RBOI hopes to also approve investments in biomass power generation, an oil depot in Tawi-Tawi, agricultural plantation investments such as banana, oil palm and buckwheat or soba noodles, Mastura said.

‘Bangsamoro worth coming home’

Amir Mawalil, executive director of the ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information, in a piece entitled “Is the Bangsamoro worth coming home to?” published by Rappler, wrote that “from having suffered from derogatory labels such as “a failed experiment,” the ARMM has now been recognized for innovations and policies and programs that would have been nothing but a source of corruption in the not-so-distant past.”

The ARMM gross regional domestic product (GRDP), or the value of goods and services in the region, increased by 3.6 percent in 2013 from 1.1 percent in 2012. In 2011, the GRDP was at an all-time low at negative 0.3 percent, Mawalil said.

He noted that the growth was driven by the strong performance of the region’s service sector and agriculture.

“What the ARMM has gone through is a dramatic and monumental transformation made possible through the relentless efforts of the national government, the regional leadership, the civil society community, other key stakeholders and most importantly, the people of the ARMM,” Mawalil said.

MILF cautions investors

With the growing investor confidence in the proposed Bangsamoro region, the MILF, however, warned prospective investors “to go slow and never presume,” which was the title of its editorial for December 16-23 posted at www.luwaran.com.

“This region is not yet normal. Conflicting land claims are not absent in many of its parts. It is not wise to presume that when a company deals with powerful people, everything is fine and in order,” it said.

“This is not in any way to drive away investors. This is for their protection and for the interests of everybody especially the meek, weak, and faint-hearted.” said the MILF, which previously forewarned companies to be careful in dealing with prospective partners who offer vast tracts of lands for pineapple, banana, or oil palm plantations.

But as a matter of policy, the MILF said that foreign investors, besides the locals, are welcome in the envisioned Bangsamoro region, “as long as they are people- and environment-friendly.” (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)

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