Alonto wants Tawi-Tawi as economic free zone

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 Jan) – Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chair Abdul Khayr Alonto has vowed that they will develop Tawi-Tawi as an economic free zone that will transform the island into an investment destination with a thriving tourism industry.

Alonto said during “Wednesday’s at Habi at Kape” at the Abreeza of the Ayala Malls that he envisions Tawi-Tawi as the “next Singapore,” a nation branded as one of Asia’s miracle economies.

“What we will be doing here will transform that part of the country – Tawi-Tawi – as the next Singapore. You combine all the islands of Tawi-Tawi alone, it is bigger than the Republic of Singapore,” he said.

Singapore’s land area measures 719.1 square kilometers as compared to Tawi-Tawi’s 1,087.40 sq. km.

“We don’t have the luxury of time and you are lucky guys because we are being managed by an army of senior citizens who are in a hurry, who wants to see change by addressing this problem sooner,” Alonto said.

He said that they plan to do this by coming out with a comprehensive approach in addressing the livelihood and the other socioeconomic constraints of this island province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that has long suffered from consequences of the armed conflicts.

Alonto said that structural facilities must be put in place to lure in investors.

When asked by reporters if he would also be willing to welcome foreign investors in Tawi-Tawi, he said: “We will be doing that. The economic zone that we are talking about will hopefully establish a real participation of concerned business communities and entities” to take part in the development of Tawi-Tawi province.

Alonto said that there are a lot of opportunities that are opening up for the country following the state visits of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to its Asian neighbors that Mindanao cannot miss out.

He said he is keen on encouraging investors from the Middle East and other Islamic countries to locate in Tawi-Tawi.

Alonto stressed that naval security forces within the territorial waters of ARMM’s three island provinces must be strengthened to protect the civilians and potential investors from the threats like kidnapping and terrorism.

“We are also asking our legislators … to increase the budget of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] for the establishment and strengthening and enhancing the development of naval station in Tawi-Tawi. The presence of a strong naval station will create that sense of security and peace in the area,” he said.

Alonto added that when there is a semblance of peace in the area, it will encourage businessmen “from both sides of the sea to be active in pursuit of business, legitimate and bigger business while they are safe,” he said.

Alonto, who was one of the founding leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) way back in the 1970s, said that the government has vowed to put an end to the violence in some parts of Mindanao. Alonto said that this administration “will never allow the oppression of the Moro people.”

He encouraged the full engagement of all Mindanao stakeholders as the Moro people cannot do it alone in thwarting terrorism, most especially the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“We have to do it altogether – ensure the full engagement of the nation, particularly those living in Mindanao and those who embrace Mindanao as their home – to act as one family in addressing this problem,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)