More investments expected as ARMM transitions into Bangsamoro

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 February) — There’s business in peace, and mining and banana firms are cashing in on the positive investment climate as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) transitions into the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that will replace the 24-year old ARMM by June 30, 2016. 

Records of the Regional Board of Investments show that investments in the ARMM rose from P569 million in 2012 to P1.463 billion in 2013 and officials expect more in the run-up to the Bangsamoro.

Before the ARMM bows out in favor of the Bangsamoro, regional officials hope that the poverty incidence,  recorded at 48.7 in 2012 is lowered to 40; that the labor force participation increases from 55.5% in 2011 to 70%.

In her presentation on “ARMM’s Development Direction and Major Programs and Projects” at the 2nd ARMM LGU Summit at the Waterfront Insular Hotel on Tuesday, (February 11), Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia reported on the increased confidence by investors in the ARMM, locally and internationally.

She said new air and shipping routes are being opened such as direct flights from Manila, Davao and General Santos cities to Tawi-tawi without connecting through Zamboanga City, as is the case at present, as well as flights connecting Bongao in Tawi-tawi with Sandakan in Malaysia; and a shipping route connecting Parang in Maguindanao with Isabela City in Basilan, and Lamitan to Jolo in Sulu and Bongao in Tawi-tawi.

ARMM Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia reports on the increase of confidence by investors in ARMM during an LGU summit at Waterfront Insular Hotel on February 11, 2014.MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Alamia told the gathering of the ARMM’s five governors, 116 town mayors and two city mayors, legislators and other regional officials, that many are investing in banana plantations, trading with Sabah in Malaysia, mining and real estate.

The infusion of a billion pesos in investments registered with the RBOI in 2013, came from four firms with a mining firm topping the list: the Al Tawitawi Nickel Coporation which posted P707 million worth of investments for its nickel mining in Tawi-tawi.

This year, according to a press release from the RBOI last month, they expect two more nickel firms that will invest in Tawi-tawi.

It also quoted RBOI chief Ishak Mastura as saying that he foresees at least eight or more firms registering in 2014 to avail of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.

Mastura explained that while the rate of registration in the RBOI is low compared with what the BOI in Manila experiences at any given year, for ARMM “it is already a veritable rush of registration of investments now that the region is set on a trajectory of high growth brought about by the stability engendered by the Mindanao peace process.”

The RBOI press release said ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman “has set a strict policy that mining firms being an extractive industry, cannot avail of fiscal incentives from RBOI as their taxes are needed by the region for its development.”

Alamia acknowledged six major development challenges facing the ARMM: recurring peace and security issues, high incidence of poverty, weak revenue generating measures and low investments, poor access to basic social services, inadequate infra support facilities, and environmental degradation and vulnerability to climate change.

But Alamia noted there are three major development initiatives being undertaken in the transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro: the reforms in the ARMM which have “overwhelming support from national governance” particularly on governance, peace and security and socio-economic development; the ongoing peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the review on the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); and the growing economy and investment prospects.

The theme of the two-day Summit that started February 11 is “Strengthening Regional Stakeholders’ Partnership towards Revitalized ARMM in Transition to Bangsamoro.”

The ARMM will be deemed abolished as soon as the Bangsamoro Basic Law drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission is passed by Congress and ratified by residents in the proposed core areas.  The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) will then take over the functions of the ARMM and govern the area through a ministerial form of governance.

Elected ARMM officials Governor Hataman, his vice governor Haroun Alrashid Lucman and 24 members of the Regional Legislative Assembly, campaigned for their respective posts in 2013 aware that their supposed three-year term would be cut short when the BBL is ratified and the BTA takes over, as mandated by the October 15, 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Hataman in his opening remarks at the Summit on Tuesday monring, said he was certain that President Aquino, who would speak Wednesday morning, would urge them to support the peace process. “Mainitin nating salubungin ang Bangsamoro” (let us warmly welcome the Bangsamoro), Hataman said.

Alamia presented the ARMM vision then and the “revitalized” vision now, that by 2015, “the reformed ARMM is prepared to transition to the new Bangsamoro entity, having empowered people and communities encouraged by responsive  government propelled by improved systems and processes of governance anchored on pro-people, transparent and accountable leadership.”

ARMM, which has been repeatedly dubbed as a “failed experiment,” comprises Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of Marawi in Lanao del Sur and Lamitan in Basilan.

The ARMM areas are part of the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro.

Alamia presented a slide from the ARMM’s Regional Development Plan Midterm Update, 2014-2016, showing how the region envisions the “functional roles” of the ARMM provinces and cities as follows: Marawi City as “Center of Islamic and Western Education” and “Tourism Destination” and Lanao del Sur as “Center of Rice, Corn and Light Industries;”  Maguindanao’s Parang and its allied municipalities as the “Center of Banana and Oil Palm production” and “Regional Agri-industrial Center and Tourist destination;”  Basilan’s Local Centers and Lamitan City as “Center of Commercial Crops;” Tawi – Tawi’s Bongao as “Seaweeds Capital of Mindanao” and “Tourism Destination;” and Sulu’s Metro Jolo as “Center of Exotic Fruits.”

Mindanao Development Authority’s Executive Secretary Janet Lopoz, who spoke before Alamia, said the developments in the peace process are positive gains for the ARMM. “There’s so  much potential now. There is strong business confidence,” she stressed.

“Everyone’s looking forward to the new political entity,”  Lopoz added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)