By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – A work-plan proposing Tawi-Tawi as a route for international shipping and trade zone in southern Philippines has been presented by the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) to the Bangsamoro government.
Tawi-Tawi Gov. Ysmael “Mang” Sali received a copy of the conceptual development framework and business study for the establishment of a Special Economic Zone and Freeport from MinDA Chairman Manny Piñol in their meeting last September 17, reports reaching The Manila Bulletin said.
The study was the product of the collaboration of MinDA, the Tawi-Tawi provincial government, and the National Security Council (NSC), proposing the establishment of a 74-hectare special economic zone and freeport in Bongao capital town to flesh out existing potentials of the area as a sea route, a statement from Piñol said.
Tawi-Tawi, a component of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), has been used as transshipment zone by more than 150 ships passing daily via the province’s Sibutu southernmost island channel, the statement said.
Piñol said the transshipment hub with cargo and maritime services “will increase value and security” in relation to the traffic coming in the province under the joint proposal.
“Having Tawi-Tawi as an alternate sea route will produce dynamic and long-term benefits for the province, in specific, and BARMM, in general, in terms of income and jobs generations. It can open up BARMM as Mindanao’s front door to the world while securing our people,” he said.
The proposal can further boost the existing economic undertakings in the member countries of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines, East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), and link BARMM with the greater ASEAN and global market as the Sibutu channel intersects with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Gov. Sali said in welcoming the plan.
MinDA is the current lead coordinating body of BIMP-EAGA activities, even as Sec. Pinol has been designated by the President as “point man” for speedy development efforts in BARMM.
As for funding of the proposed eco-zone and Freeport area, Piñol said the MinDA can assist in sourcing out resources from international partners, such as Italy, with available loan packages intended for port development.
Besides shipping services, the proposed Special Eco-zone and Freeport will include a processing plant for abundant supplies of carrageenan in Tawi-Tawi “to match the high volume and quality of seaweeds” in the global markets.
Integrated storage facilities, business and residential spaces are also eyed for opening at the special zone, they said.
“The concept framework will be used as an input to the provincial government’s comprehensive land use plan under the BARMM administration,” Sali said.
Piñol proceeded to Tawi-Tawi on September 17 after witnessing a day earlier the signing of an agreement by a British firm and a group of Tausog businessmen for the opening of a liquefied natural gas and oil refinery in Sulu, another component of BARMM.
He met with BARMM interim Chief Minister Ahod “Murad” Ebrahim on September 7, and discussed with the latter some of MinDA plans for the Bangsamoro region.