Malaysian economic mission explores business opportunities in ARMM

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/24 November))—A 19-member Malaysian delegation attended a forum here Saturday to explore business opportunities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the first foreign economic mission in the area after the October 15 signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya accompanied the Malaysian business delegation in attending the ARMM International Investment Forum, themed “Philippine-Malaysia Investments: Fostering Sustainable Development in Muslim Mindanao.”

ARMM International Investment Forum, Cotabato City, November 24. MindaNews photo by Bong Sarmiento

At least 200 stakeholders in the impoverished region attended the forum, including officials and businessmen from the ARMM’s Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The investment forum is part of the month-long celebration for the 23rd founding anniversary of ARMM.

In his keynote address, OIC ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman urged Malaysian investors to locate in the ARMM, citing the reforms initiated, particularly the “ghost-busting” of “ghost schools, ghost, teachers and ghosts students,” that were initiated after he assumed office on December 22, 2011.

“In that short period (since I assumed the post) pockets of reforms have been initiated…and slowly felt on the ground,” he said.

“With the reforms, we (the ARMM) are ready, Malaysian partners, to receive you,” Hataman said.

He recalled that the economic activity between ARMM and Malaysia “is not new to us (since) the route of Islam dates to a hundred years back” between these areas.

Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, the governor’s wife and the forum’s convenor, expressed optimism the visit of the Malaysian delegation would eventually translate to the actual pouring of Malaysian investments in  the region.

“This is just exploratory and a series of investment meetings would follow,” she told MindaNews.

Ambassador Malaya disclosed at the plenary that a Philippine team will visit Kuala Lumpur next week for a follow-up investment forum which will be headed by Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, chair of the Mindanao Development Authority, and OIC ARMM Governor Hataman.

In a press conference after the forum, Malaya said that visiting Malaysian businessmen are “earnestly looking at putting out investments in the ARMM.”

“It’s worth the trip to come here and it’s a good eye opener (to the visiting Malaysians). The image of Mindanao is not positive but it was not the place that they thought it was,” said Malaya, apparently referring to relative stable peace and order condition in the ARMM and neighboring areas.

He said the signing of the FAB, which will replace the ARMM with the new autonomous political entity called “Bangsmoro,” was a major breakthrough to help attract investments in Mindanao.

Malaysia is the third party facilitator in the peace process between the government and the MILF.

Malaya said that with the FAB, foreign investors “have taken a serious look” at the business potentials of the Moro region.

He said the Malaysian delegation, which he described as “a strong Malaysian economic mission,” includes those in the fields of manufacturing, infrastructure development, education and micro-finance.

Also in the press conference, Senator Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud, representing the chief minister of Selangor State, said the coming of the Malaysian investors shows their seriousness to put up investments in the ARMM. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)