COTABATO CITY–The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) remains optimistic that better economic opportunities are at hand for the coming year, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ishak Mastura, chair of the BARMM’s Regional Board of Investments (RBOI), said the optimism is heightened by the entry of the PHP14-million internet Community Wireless and Power Corporation (CWPC) in the region during the first quarter of the year.
“It is a welcome development, and the town of Wao in Lanao del Sur will be the pilot area for the project site,”
He said the RBOI has recently approved the CWPC application to invest in the region, the first-ever amid the 10-month economic crisis brought by the pandemic.
In 2019, the region recorded PHP4.1 billion, with the Lamitan Agri-Business Corporation investing in Cavendish banana plantations worth PHP1.8 billion in Basilan province.
Other investors were the JMI Sand and Gravel Truck Services Corporation with investments worth PHP1.4 billion in Maguindanao; the Maguindanao Corn Development DSA-1 Corporation worth PHP515 million located in Datu Saudi Ampatuan of the same province.
In the same year, the Wao Development Corporation also invested PHP306 million for a new pineapple packing plant in Wao municipality, Lanao del Sur; and also the Hong Kong Feng Sheng Heritage Philippines Inc. based in Balabagan, Lanao del Sur investing PHP100 million for the establishment of an abaca fiber processing plant.
Agriculture sector chair Mastura said that if there is one sector that BARMM relies on heavily, it would be agriculture.
He said that while other RBOI registered firms were struggling to survive the economic crisis brought about by the lockdowns to contain Covid-19, agricultural investments continue to “survive” amid the pandemic.
“The agricultural sector has somehow managed to assuage the crunch brought by the effects of Covid-19 in the region,” Mastura said.
He said the BARMM remains a good choice for agriculture-based investments in the south. Cotabato City as an investment center.
With the recent turnover of Cotabato City as an integral part of BARMM, prospects also remain high for new investments to come in 2021, particularly in banking and finance.
Mastura noted that the city is situated in the heart of Central Mindanao, a strategic financial center having the most number of branches from both government and private banking institutions.
Cotabato City even has a Central Bank regional office in its downtown area, a government banking authority that many local government units cannot boast in Central Mindanao.
Mastura said the BARMM would also promoting the city to become the center of Islamic banking in the country with the anticipated coming in of the Malaysian-owned MayBank, through its subsidiarity MayBank Islamic.
Considered the largest in Southeast Asia, MayBank is eyeing to open a branch in the city next year.
“With the BARMM having an annual block grant amounting to PHP70 billion this year and PHP75 billion next year going through the banking system in Cotabato City, such volume of money alone cements its role as the financial center of the region,” Mastura said.
Peace and order
Another improving aspect in the BARMM is its improving peace and order situation brought about by the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law that formed the 21-month-old region following the signing of the government-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) comprehensive peace agreement.
“The MILF is now pursuing the path of peace and development under the BARMM, and we are proving ourselves to be capable leaders of our Bangsamoro constituents,” Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim of the MILF-led BARMM said in a recent interview.
An estimated 12,000 former MILF members are undergoing the decommissioning process as among the key provisions of the Annex on Normalization of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that aims to help the former combatants become peaceful and productive citizens once more.
The Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID) in Central Mindanao said that close to 200 combatants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway group from the MILF, have yielded to authorities after witnessing for themselves the return to normal lives of their former MILF comrades.
“We welcome the BIFF’s return to the mainstream society,” Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, the 6ID commander, said.
Fight against Covid-19
BARMM officials said that if there is one tough battle they are currently facing right now, it would be the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) crisis.
The region’s Ministry of Health (MOH) believes that perseverance and dedication remain the largest factor for BARMM’s record as having the least number of cases number of Covid-19 cases at the regional level.
“Our combination of hard work and effective contract tracing has been working against the virus,” Dr. Amirel Usman, acting MOH minister, said, adding that current active Covid-19 cases in the region are only at 86 as of Dec. 20, 2020.
Since March this year, the region has 2,497 Covid-19 cases, with 2,315 recoveries, for a 93 percent recovery rate.
Usman has expressed hope that the region can “flatten the curve” by the early part of 2021.
“The suppression of Covid-19 is tantamount to reopening and reviving of the regional economy that the constituents are eagerly yearning for,” he said. (PNA)
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