Cross border trade between Malaysia and ARMM’s island provinces to reopen on Feb. 1

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 Jan) – The cross border trade between Sabah, Malaysia and island provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will be reopened on February 1, almost a year after it was shut down, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) secretary Abdul Khayr Alonto announced on Wednesday.

Alonto told “Wednesdays at Habi at Kape” at the Abreeza Mall that no less Musa Aman, Chief Minister of Sabah, made the announcement regarding the lifting of the trade embargo after a string of kidnapping incidents involving Malaysian victims by the Abu Sayyaf Group in the island provinces.

“As per announcement by the chief Minister of Sabah, starting February 1, the ban on doing the economic activities will be lifted. Sabah is open once again to our Muslim/Filipino traders going to that part of Malaysia,” he said.

The ARMM is composed of five provinces: Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao in the mainland, and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, which are often referred to as “BASULTA.”

Alonto said the reopening of the cross border trade will involve the three island provinces but will eventually expand to other territories of the ARMM, and even to General Santos City.

He said that the armed conflicts did not only affect barter between Sabah and the island provinces but also crippled the economic activities of the constituents there.

“The behavior of some individuals, you know – kidnapping and beheading – the inhumanity in this kidnap for ransom affected not only the free trade but economic activities, their livelihood,” he said.

Alonto also disclosed plans of putting up a consular office in Kota Kinabalu to attend to the needs of the Filipino Muslims there.

“Without prejudice to the Sabah claim, we will operate in Kota Kinabalu, within that complex also we will try to put up the consular office activities to take good care of our people in Sabah and attend to their requirements, including passport,” he said.

The secretary is also optimistic about the developments happening around Mindanao, most specifically the launch of the roll on/roll off (RORO) vessels between General Santos City in Mindanao and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and Manado in Indonesia during the 30th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) Summit.

The Philippines is chairing the ASEAN this year.

Alonto added that he asked for a grace period from their Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts to allow the boat operators here to convert their vessels into metal vessels from boat hulls to be able to ply the route.

Backdoor no more

Alonto vowed to work harder to make Mindanao as the gateway of the Philippines by increasing its participation in the BIMP-EAGA.

“BIMP-EAGA, in fact, could very well be an instrument to restore Mindanao once again as the gateway of the Philippines to the BIMP-EAGA countries and to the world and to China… Mindanao was the gateway but after all these decades with policies that we imposed on Mindanao, it was referred to as the backdoor. This time, Mindanao is no backdoor and we will work it out as the gateway,” he vowed.

He said that they will strive to work on improving the connectivity among members of the BIMP-EAGA to serve as the pillar of the ASEAN.

Alonto pointed out that naval security forces within the territorial waters off the three ARMM island provinces must be strengthened to protect the civilians and potential investors from possible threats like terrorism.

“We are also asking our legislators and Congress to increase the budget of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] for the establishment and strengthening and enhancing the development of a 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 the businessmen “from both sides of the sea, to be active in pursuit of business, legitimate and bigger business while they are safe,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)