Bai Sandra Basar, president of the Muslim Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Kutawato (Cotabato), told MindaNews Tuesday afternoon that they are batting for the business sector to play a bigger role in achieving and eventually sustaining peace in Mindanao.
Basar is a board member of the ARMM Business Council composed of at least 10 business chambers and industry associations in the provinces of Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Lanao del Sur and the cities of Cotabato and Marawi.
For the first time in the ABC, she said, the economic cost of war will be highlighted to make the businessman understand the need to prevent war in Mindanao.
Prof. Abhoud Sayed Lingga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, will present the economic cost as he will discuss the peace process and its implications to business development in the ARMM, Basar said.
Vicente Lao, Mindanao Business Council chair, will discuss the business environment vis-à-vis the ongoing peace process, from the lens of an entrepreneur outside the ARMM..
Basar said the best way for non-ARMM businessmen in Mindanao and the country to help is to invest in ARMM's vast and untapped business opportunities.
At least 300 participants, mostly representing micro, small and medium enterprises are expected to attend what she said is a "bigger and better" ABC congress in Cotabato City on Sept. 4 to 5. Basar was in Davao to tape an episode for the government television show Talk Mindanao.
Basar said peace is, indeed, a challenge for business in the ARMM.
She said peace efforts should be coupled with jobs generation and income for the poor.
"There are those who say investments should come when peace is already there. We think investments can help us solve the peace problem," the hardware store owner said.
This year's congress theme is on "Expanding Business Linkages with other chambers, responsive to peace efforts."
Basar said the businessmen's interests in the vast business opportunities offered in the ARMM are at stake in the impending peace process.
Basar said the business sector cannot just let the main parties, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to do it on their own.
"We need a wider role from stakeholders, which can take a stronger cohesive action. We should do what we do," she said.
One of the things Basar cited is for investors from the ARMM or Manila to invest in industries that could fuel positive domino effect to the agriculture-based region.
He said if only an investor could take courage on putting up a rubber processing plant in Basilan, he could help transform the island province.
Basar herself transports corn from Shariff Kabunsuan province to Davao. She said if only a corn mill or similar service is available, they don't have to carry products outside of the region.
She said ARMM offers a lot of incentives to investors such as lower labor cost, lower power and water rates and tax holidays as provided by the Regional Economic Zone Authority Law.
She said the best way investors can help is through job creation and helping address "socio-economic exclusion" which deprived people in the ARMM of infrastructure, health and other basic and social services. She said economic activity could help solve the peace problem.
The business leader also lashed out at the media for depicting a generalization of the peace and order situation in the ARMM. “What you see on TV is entirely different from the real situation in most of the ARMM," she said adding the problem occurs only in specific parts of the region.
"I invite you to give us a chance to depict the region as a place of business opportunity, not of blown up images of war," she said. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)