World Bulletin / News Desk
A top Philippine business leader said Saturday that attaining peace in the southern Philippines is crucial for upcoming ASEAN integration, explaining that the Muslim region of Mindanao is the country’s gateway to other Southeast Asian neighbors.
Alfredo Yao, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the state-run Philippine News Agency, that big economic prospects have not yet been explored in Mindanao, which will play a significant role for the country once ASEAN integration takes place at the end of 2015.
For years, the area has been wracked by armed conflict brought about by Muslim and communist insurgencies. A peace process between the government and the area's largest rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), however, now aims to bring such violence to a close.
Yao cited Mindanao’s agriculture sector, which has huge potential because of the island's fertile land.
He explained that Mindanao is also an asset as it can be a manufacturing hub for the country and improve trade with other ASEAN countries due to its close proximity to Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
“Mindanao can be a manufacturing site. Our south border which is very near to our ASEAN brothers: Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia,” he said, describing Mindanao as "a big boost for the Philippine economy.”
Yao, however, said that investment prospects in Mindanao had been affected by a Jan. 25 incident between police commandos and the MILF in Mamasapano in the area's Maguindanao province during which 44 police were killed.
“We still hope investments in Mindanao to push through, but the incident will affect the decision of investors,” he said.
“Everybody wants peace... If there will be peace here in the country we can live harmoniously, we can explore the economic side of Mindanao."
The official also mentioned that the Mamasapano incident had now forced the government to further scrutinize Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and provide room for some amendments, which - he noted - needed to be agreed upon by both parties.
BBL is legislation tied to the peace process that paves the way for a new authority to replace the much-criticized Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Earlier this week, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement that the president will respect changes to be introduced in the BBL.
Even before the Jan. 24 incident, the Philippine government -- through Mindanao Development Authority -- had positioned the southern Philippines for economic cooperation with other ASEAN countries through Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area - collectively known as BIMP-EAGA.
BIMP-EAGA was formed in 1992 with the goal of promoting trade, investment, and tourism in less-developed states and provinces in the ASEAN sub-group.
The sub-group is now beefing up programs and agreements to enhance connectivity among member-countries.
Mindanao Development Authority data show that investments in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2014 had increased to P863 million ($236 million) with a P741.8 million nickel ore mining project in Panglima Sugala, in Tawi-Tawi Province and a P121.25 million petroleum depot project in the same project.
During a recent forum, Socioeconomic Planning secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the underdevelopment of the ARMM, where Maguindanao is a part of the region, is linked to its long history of armed conflict.
Balisacan cited that per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of the region is only pegged at P14,565 in 2013, far from the national average per capita GDP of P68,897.
Poverty incidence in the region is also high at 55.8 percent of its total population.