ARMM economic chief to urge Australians to invest in the region

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 06 August) — The head of the Regional Board of Investment (RBOI) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is on a week-long trade mission in Australia to urge business executives there to invest in the region to help address the root causes of the chronic security problem in the region.

RBOI chief Ishak Mastura, along with other economic and trade officials of the country, flew to Australia on Sunday, August 6, to participate in the week-long trade and investment mission that is being organized by the Board of Investments (BOI) – Manila under the Philippine Investment Promotion Plan (PIPP) program.

Mastura said the trade mission came at a critical time when Mindanao, particularly Marawi City, is facing a crisis.

RBOI-ARMM chief Ishak Mastura (in white polo) is in Australia for a trade mission.  MindaNews file photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

“The Australian newspapers are full of stories and opinion columns that are referring to the Marawi Crisis as the Islamic State (IS) presence at their doorstep due to the proximity of Mindanao, particularly. to Darwin in Northern Australia,” he said, as the Marawi Crisis entered Day 76 on Sunday.

Government forces have been fighting the ISIS-inspired Maute Group and its allies in Marawi City since May 23.

“At the same time, there is increasing public call for Australia to be more involved in Mindanao in all spheres of activity from security to the economy. So we want to take advantage of such high public awareness in Australia regarding Marawi and the ARMM,” Mastura added.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman said they are encouraging Australia to invest in agriculture, particularly in the cattle industry, since Australia has a well-developed Halal industry revolving around the supply of Halal meat to the Middle East.

“We can raise cattle cheaply in the ARMM or we can import them from Australia and process them into Halal meat products to be re-distributed around the region since ARMM and Mindanao are geographically at the heart of Muslim Southeast Asian countries, who all belong to the BIMP-EAGA or the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippine East ASEAN Growth Area,” he said.

Mastura said the delegation will present the Philippine economy and investment opportunities to the businessmen in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

He said Australian investors’ interest is high in the Philippines “because of the shared security environment that necessitates increased partnership and collaborations between the two countries.”

“Foremost in mind is the Marawi crisis in the ARMM, wherein IS affiliated armed groups occupied Marawi City with still no end in sight,” he said.

“Instead of turning off investors from investing in the country and the ARMM in particular, strategic investors have come forward to offer their help to rebuild Marawi City and provide much needed jobs in the ARMM,” Mastura said.

To date, the Australian government is active in providing aid in the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. Australian security is also assisting government troopers in the ongoing effort to flush-out militants in Marawi through by sending its AP-3C Orion aircraft to provide surveillance support.

The Australian government also gave $920,000 (P34.5 million) worth of food and other supplies to help address the situation of the displaced residents of Marawi.

Mastura said neighboring countries are concerned that the Marawi crisis could galvanize IS members from the region, who are returning home from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, to seek sanctuary in Marawi City and its environs.

“This means that investments in building a vibrant economy that can provide jobs to the Muslim population in the ARMM have become a priority as disaffected Muslim populations with long-standing grievances are known to be susceptible to radicalization by IS,” he said.

Mastura said a recent United Nations study of 43 people who left their countries to become “foreign terrorist fighters” in Syria showed most of them came from disadvantaged backgrounds, lacked good education and decent jobs — and saw their Muslim religion “in terms of justice and injustice rather than in terms of piety and spirituality.” (Darwin Wally T. Wee / MindaNews)