P1.3-B oil palm project in Maguindanao is first investment in ARMM in 2016

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 January) — A PhP 1.3 billion oil palm plantation project of a Singapore-Mindanao partnership, Gintong Agri-Corporation, was approved by the Regional Board of Investments in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (RBOI-ARMM) last Friday.

This is the first investment in ARMM registered this year, the RBOI-ARMM said in a press release. Last year, it recorded a total of PhP 6.5 billion investments, exceeding 900% of its 2015 agency target of PhP 700 million.

RBOI-ARMM said Gintong Agri Corporation will develop a 5,000 hectare oil palm plantation in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao then expand up to 20,000 hectares over the next decade in several municipalities in the ARMM particularly in Talayan and Guindulungan towns, also in Maguindanao.

“The company is investing in sustainable oil palm production and in due course (will) build and operate palm oil mill facilities in Maguindanao to produce crude palm oil and palm kernel oil,” RBOI-ARMM said.

Gintong Agri Corporation is majority Singaporean-owned with a joint venture with  local community cooperatives whose members own the lands while the company funds their development and manage the nucleus estate, provide technical advice and the market to the farmers. The project is expected to generate 1,000 jobs on its full operation.

The company’s president, Alex Fergusson said the spillover of fighting following the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano Tragedy that left 66 persons dead, was an an initial concern but since no widespread fighting broke out they decided to continue with the investment.

“Best year”

RBOI-ARMM chair Ishak Mastura said 2015 was “the best year ever” since the region generated the highest value of investments in the 26-year history of ARMM.

RBOI-ARMM approved eight investment projects last year: Al-Sahar Agri Ventures’ PhP 3.7 billion Cavendish banana plantation project in Maguindanao; Chan C. Mining Incorporated’s Php742 million for a mining and quarrying of nickel ore project in Tawi-Tawi; Lamsan Power Corporation’s power plant expansion project of an additional 5.5 megawatts worth Php687 million located in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao; Tawi-Tawian Petroleum Trading Corporation with a Php121 million petroleum project in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi ; DS3 Fuel Tanking and Services Inc. with a Php252 million petroleum project operating at Polloc Free Port, Parang, Maguindanao; Maguindanao Enegry Farms Inc. based in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao with Php400 million for a 474 hectare-napier grass plantation; Matling Industrial and Commercial Corporation’s (MICC) PhP 194 million new cassava starch milling plant in Malabang, Lanao del Sur and Southsea Industrial Energy Corporation’s to Php471 million oil refinery project in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi.

Stability of Policy

Fergusson, according to the RBOI-ARMM, said stability of the investment policy was very important for them.

It added that the company hopes the Bangsamoro law that will be passed will not diminish the ease of doing business in the ARMM.

The government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro on March 27, 2014, to pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, to replace the ARMM.

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, submitted its draft to Congress on September 10, 2014 but after several committee hearings, the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL and the Senate Committee on Local Government, filed their substitute bills, HB 5811 and SB 2894, both titled Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR).

The substitute bills have been criticized for envisioning a Bangsamoro less autonomous than the ARMM it seeks to replace; the Senate version further reducing the Bangsamoro into a mere local government unit.

The ARMM-based Promotion of Investment Sustainability Organization (PISO) led by Edgar Bullecer of Al Shar, an affiliate of the Unifrutti Group, had earlier expressed concern that the substitute bills would remove the fiscal incentives for firms investing in the ARMM.

PISO presented its position paper to the Senate Committee on Local Government of Senator Ferdinand Marcos to push for a BBL that complies with the CAB because a Bangsamoro that is less autonmous than the ARMM, “will lead to instability in investment policies, undermining investor confidence in the region.”

Bullecer said their company, the largest foreign investor in the ARMM last year. was determined to continue investing in the region with or without the BBL “but they fear that a watered-down BBL as represented by the BLBAR will make it harder to invest in the region because investors will have to get their permits and approvals of projects from the national government, similar to the experience with mere local government units, which are not autonomous regions,” the RBOI-ARMM said.

As an autonomous region, the ARMM grants permits, licenses, franchises and approvals for investments in the region under the ARMM Organic Act without interference from the national government.

ARMM comprises the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan. (MindaNews)