By Chito Chavez
The prospect of the country raking in revenues of P50-billion to P80-billion yearly has propelled various groups, including public officials, to propel plans for the construction of an economic zone and transshipment port in Tawi-Tawi.
Long in dire need of livelihood opportunities, local residents expressed their invaluable support for the proposed project, a plan that could rival Singapore into becoming a world class economic zone.
It is estimated that more than 52,000 foreign sea crafts from various parts of the world traverse Sibutu passage every year passing through the southern provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Basilan.
In a briefing with Quezon City reporters, Mindanao State University (MSU) Professor Sajid Omar Adil, who conceptualized the plan, allayed fears that peace and order issues will derail the supposed ambitious plan.
To explain his point further, Adil maintained the presence of military personnel and other law enforcement personnel in strategic areas of the proposed eco zone will discourage terrorists and other armed groups in operating in the area.
He cited that once the area is developed into a world class economic hub in the south, trade and industry will certainly boost the country’s economy.
Adil remains optimistic the Philippines, with its vast natural and human resources, can run abreast with Singapore which he considered as the richest state in Asia.
Citing that having a decent livelihood is a basic human right, Adil noted the citizens of Tawi-Tawi are hopeful that transforming the province and the neighboring areas of Basilan and Suu into a progressive economic zone will get President Duterte’s nod as they had long held on the his promise of prioritizing efforts to uplift progress in Mindanao.
Instead of being a “backdoor’’ of illegal activities Adil said the area could become a gateway to barter and trade once the project materializes.
Adil noted the idea of creating an economic zone complete with a transshipment complex was hatched after long years of study and extensive research, insisting that it would prove economically beneficial not only to the province of Tawi-Tawi but also to the whole region of Mindanao.
Aside from building an economic zone and transshipment complex in the area, the plan is to make it into a “tourism superstar’’ with its serene and vast water resources.
Administration senatorial bets Aquilino “Koko’’ Pimentel III and Francis Tolentino are both receptive to the plan of building an economic zone and transshipment port to make it run abreast with the economic progress enjoyed by Singapore and to end the hostilities in the once war torn area of Tawi-Tawi.
Recently, Pimentel and Tolentino led local officials and foreign investors in the ground breaking ceremonies in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.
The economic zone will be built in Kulape, Panglima Sugala while the transshipment port will be constructed in the island of Bongao.
Bongao is one of the island chain that encompasses the Sibutu passage which is a major route of sea vessels in Southeast Asia.
However, former Tawi-Tawi Governor Hadji Sakidul Adalla Sahali, the acknowledged father of the province said local officials and their counterparts from the concerned government agencies are still in the midst of processing documents and other requirements that could lead to the approval of the project.
He cited the need to comply with the Congressional requirements to legalize the building of the project in Tawi-Tawi.
Sahali was also cited for getting prospective foreign investors to facilitate the construction of the economic zone and transshipment port at the soonest time possible.
Pimentel expressed full support for the project saying it will become a major key in finally ending violence in Tawi-Tawi due to Islamic extremism.
“This is truly a historic occasion because this marks the beginning of Tawi-tawi’s journey towards a peace and progress. This economic zone and transshipment port will be an economic game-changer not only in Mindanao but in the entire country as well,’’ Pimentel said.
For Tolentino, who is a planning expert, the project creating more economic zones outside of Metro Manila like in Tawi-Tawi will not only bring economic development but also decongest the ballooning population and traffic woes in the metropolis.
“This is the best thing that has happened in Tawi-Tawi. This project would definitely inspire all other provinces in Mindanao such as Basilan and Sulu to shun terrorism and embrace peace and development. Tawi-tawi is leading the way for Mindanao’s quest for peace,’’ added Tolentino.
“These economic zones are not just a catalyst for economic growth but are important part of President Duterte’s policy of decentralizing political and economic power from Metro Manila. This proposed Tawi-Tawi economic zone and Tawi-Tawi Transshipment Port is one bold step that could actually turn it into a major trading post in Southeast Asia,” Tolentino concluded.