Presidents Duterte and Widodo launch Davao-GenSan-Bitung shipping route 

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 April)  — The Davao-General Santos-Bitung shipping route was launched here Sunday with President Rodrigo Duterte referring to it as “another milestone in the historic relations between the Philippines and Indonesia” and Indonesian President Joko Widodo describing it as a “symbol of partnership and friendship.”

Duterte said the launching of the route at the Kudos Port in Sasa, marked the beginning of achieving the vision of the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to provide greater access and mobility and more opportunities for the people.

President Rodrigo Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo prepare to strike the gong to launch the Davao-GenSan-Bitung ASEAN Roro route on Sunday, 30 April 2017 at the Kudos Port in Sasa, Davao City. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

“Today, we mark another milestone in historical ties between Philippines and Indonesia. This unique bond was shaped by vast sea that connects us,” Duterte said as he noted that as early as the pre-colonial time, the vast sea has been the route of barter trading and facilitated the “flow of people from and to our respective territories.”

He said the opening of the route will also connect Mindanao, the gateway of the Philippines to the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)  to Indonesia and the rest of the ASEAN and stimulate the growth of trade and tourism in the region.

Duterte said the cheaper route will drive competition and attract new players that will boost jobs generation and, at the same time, introduce more trade expansion opportunities and not only strengthen international connectivity.

The President encouraged the private sector to work on harnessing the potentials of this sea link by not only taking advantage of the opportunities but also contributing to the sustainability of the shipping network.

At 10:10 a.m., the two Presidents struck the gong to launch theDavao-GenSan-Bitung route with the M/V Super Shuttle RORO 12 plying the route.

Widodo was the third head of state to visit Davao City, where Duterte served as mayor for 22 years.  Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad was here in 1994 for the launching of the BIMP-EAGA (Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines – East ASEAN Growth Area) and Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came here on January 13, 2017.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and President Rodrigo Duterte shake hands at the launch of the Davao-Gensan-Bitung ASEAN RORO Route on 30 April 2017 at Kudos Port, Sasa, Davao City. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Widodo said the new route is a milestone for both countries as it will significantly cut the amount of time to travel goods from both sides from three to five weeks to 1.5 to 2 days.

“I hope that this new RORO service between Davao and General Santos City in Mindanao and Bitung in North Sulawesi will “present new opportunities and foster new business for our people.

Widodo acknowledged the importance of this route, taking into account the efforts of the Duterte administration to push for the countryside development.

“When I took office about two and a half years ago, we saw the need to address the imbalance in Indonesia. Most of the development was concentrated on the island of Java near where the capital of Jakarta. Today, our infrastructure development program is focused on the other regions of Indonesia, we call it building a nation from outside inward,” Widodo, former mayor of Solo City, said.

Double-digit growth

Trade secretary Ramon Lopez  said the growth of total trade between two countries in the last five years was pegged at 5 percent but they are expecting a double digit growth with the RORO shipping service.

He said Indonesia is the 14th export market and 8th import supplier of the Philippines.

He said the government has achieved one of the major economic deliverables under the 2007 ASEAN Blueprint that seeks to integrate the ASEAN members into a single economic region.

“We will not only strengthen bilateral trade but support greater integration efforts in the ASEAN region,” she said. “Empowering the Filipinos is bringing prosperity to all.”

He said the government saw a huge and vast potential “that will spell a big difference most especially to micro, small, and medium enterprises” to be able to trade across the borders.

The greater connectivity, Lopez said, will broaden the expansion of trade among the ASEAN countries.

Lopez named the Aboitiz-led Pilmico, CDO Foodsphere Inc., San Miguel Corporation, Frankilin Baker, Unilever, FEMSA Coca Cola, and ACS Manufacturing as the large companies that have signified interest to explore the opportunities of exporting to Indonesia using this route.

Improved mobility, connectivity

Transportation Sec. Arturo Tugade Jr. said the opening of the new route will be a necessary first step to strengthen “mobility and connectivity” between the two countries as platforms of development.

But the transportation chief emphasized that the security and safety in the high seas must be sustained and improved. He noted that the 10-member states of the ASEAN agreed to address piracy in the high seas during the just concluded ASEAN Summit in Manila.

Tugade said there must be a sufficient volume to trade in order to sustain the operation of the shipping route.

“Without the volume, this project will be short-changed and this project will be short-lived,” he said.

Sunday’s launch was not the first attempt to open trading via this route. At least two previous attempts were short-lived.

M/V Super Shuttle RORO 12, the vessel servicing the route has a cargo capacty of 500 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU). But it left for Bitung Sunday loaded only with five TEUs or one per cent its total capacity (see other story)

Tugade told producers to be constantly aware of customers’ satisfaction and continuing customer service to make the initial voyage successful.

Better alternative

The sea route from Mindanao to Indonesia only takes about one to two days unlike the Davao-Manila-Jakarta-Bitung’s three to five weeks. It also cuts the shipping cost by 68 percent from P109,098 per twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) to P34,713 per TEU.

“It’s a better alternative,” said Eamarie M. Gilayo, development management officer III at the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).

She said the launch of the new route will provide an ease of doing business between the two countries and boost the economy of Mindanao by opening more opportunities that will benefit the underdeveloped areas on the island.

Five to 10 exporters from Luzon and Visayas have initially signified the interest to use the route, according to Gilayo. She said the use of the Mindanoa-Indonesia route is aimed at decongesting the Manila ports by bringing some of the operations to Mindanao.

The route will be serviced by the Cebu-based Asia Marine Transport Corp.’s M/V Super Shuttle RORO 12, owned by businessman Paul Rodriguez. The vessel has a capacity of 500-TEU.

Among the goods to be traded are animal feeds, aqua products, charcoal, coffee bean, construction materials, copra, feed ingredients, fertilizers, food and beverages, fresh fruits, ice cream products, meats, peanuts, poultry (halal), soya, sugar, and synthetics.

However, Gilayo said goods that cannot be traded for now are gift toys, housewares, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and fresh fruits due to some quarantine and trade issues.

Dr. Maria Lourdes Monteverde, former President of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. said the business sector will seek tax exemption on goods from the government and fuel subsidy, and for both countries to lift the tariffs to ensure the continuity of the operations and allow a freer trade between the two countries.

In 2010, Japan International Cooperation Agency conducted a feasibility study on the sea route in collaboration with US Agency for International Development and Research Education and Institutional Development Foundation as part of the ASEAN Connectivity Plan. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)