Rising ‘star’ in the South


WHAT used to be the perennial tailender has logged in surprising numbers to join the lead pack in economic growth in Mindanao.

Yes, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), a region where some of the country’s poorest provinces belong, “continues to advance its economic performance and remain resilient despite the crisis posed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” BARMM’s information office reported recently.

The improvement in economic marks also happened, it noted, “despite the bureaucratic challenges hurdled by the interim regional government amid the transition period.”

Nothing is more rewarding than to see the economic growth unfolding for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the caretaker organization of the regional government. The MILF was just repositioning itself from revolution to reformation, to assume its responsibility in the peace agreement it struck with government to bring economic relief, at the very least, to people of the region, impoverished for decades by conflict, discrimination and lack of economic opportunity.

The numbers

THE MILF admits to the taxing and demanding tasks since the BARMM was formally constituted from the former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao two years ago, and found itself immediately confronted by administrative concerns and processes in order to address a public health emergency instead, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit Philippine shores.

“While the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament initially suspended its sessions during the advent of the unprecedented Covid-19 last year, it was quick to adapt to alternative methods, utilizing technology to continue its legislative mandates. Several ministries, on the other hand, redirected their operation and focused on the delivery of essential services,” the Barmm Public Information Office said.

The innovation and creativity in governance has apparently borne fruit.

Since then, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the BARMM placed second among the regions in Mindanao in terms of gross regional domestic product (GRDP) and gross regional domestic expenditure (GRDE) growth rate in 2019.

Similarly, BARMM ranked seventh among the country’s 17 regions when it posted 5.9-percent growth rate in its GRDP.

“This milestone was significantly driven by the region’s service sector, which contributed 40.4 percent, followed by agriculture, forestry and fishing (AFF) sector with 34.5 percent growth, and the industry sector with 25.1 percent,” it added.

Investment attraction

LARGELY laid back and its vast land resources untapped, the BARMM soon maximized its pristine condition to attract multibillion-peso investments in agriculture and energy, to the tune of P5.117 billion, in roughly more than two years of service. Some 3,374 persons found employment here.

Among the big-ticket investments were the P306-million pineapple packing plant in Lanao del Sur by the Wao Development Corp. and the P515-million corn plantation in Maguindanao, both in September 2019.

This year, the Al Muzafar Agriventure Inc., also known as Amavi Sweet Banana, registered with the RBOI and on April 15 applied for an investment in a banana plantation worth P950 million.

And recently, the Ministry of Trade, Investments and Tourism approved the registration of Community Wireless and Power Corp. for an investment project worth P14 million in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.

The services required to serve these big investments propelled much of the growth in the region.

Community self-help organizations also increased. A total of 12,058 registered cooperatives across the region were recorded by the Cooperative and Social Enterprise Authority (CSEA) of the Office of Chief Minister (OCM) as of June 25 this year.

Most of the listed types of registered cooperatives were advocacy, agrarian, agriculture, consumer, credit, dairy, education, federation, fishermen, marketing, multi-purpose, producer, service, traders, transport, union, and workers.

Agri-fishery sector

This sector did not lag behind, even though the PSA stated that BARMM was predominantly agriculture.

Regional officials said that despite the imposition of lockdowns and community quarantine restrictions, the “BARMM’s agri-fishery sector continued to sustain supply and provide food on the table.”

For one, BARMM’s economic performance dropped by a small 1.9 percent when the Covid-19 pandemic dampened economic activity. The PSA said the drop was the lowest decline among all 17 regions in the country. “Simply put, BARMM performed relatively well as it was able to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.”

The region’s agriculture sector was able to recoup faster so that by the first quarter last year, palay production had increased to 196,987 metric tons (MT). This was 15.61 percent higher than what it produced over the same period in 2019, at 170,387.50 MT.

In the same quarter this year, the region produced a much higher 310,012 MT.

The regional government attributed this to government distribution of agricultural inputs, training of local farmers, and expansion of rice areas through model farms.

Aquaculture also contributed a little increase, albeit small, by 4 percent, in 2019, and another increase of 1.69 percent in the third quarter of last year.

“This shows that for the past two years, the agriculture sector has performed well with the cooperation of the business sector and local government units,” BARMM said.

Islamic banking and Halal industry

THIS autonomous region for Filipino Muslims has set a conducive investment atmosphere for the practice of Islamic banking, a non-collateral banking practice among Islamic countries, after the region was able to include “Islamic Banks and Financial Institutions” in the BARMM under the Investment Priorities Plan (IPP) 2020. President Duterte approved the IPP in November last year.

“Only in BARMM will Islamic Banking and Financial Institutions be able to avail of incentives,” the information office added.

The same would apply to the Halal industry, an Islamic sanitary and hygienic practice in food preparation, including animal slaughter and meat preparation.

The BARMM Ministry of Science and Technology has upgraded the Regional Standard and Halal Testing Laboratory, a first in the Bangsamoro region, to allay global concerns on quality standards and Halal compliance with various products.

Covid-19 management

SINCE finding itself in the thick of the Covid-19 response—distracted from the main mission of uplifting of the region’s economy—the BARMM’s management of the pandemic has been primarily focused on improving health services, social welfare and development, and strengthening partnerships with local government units.

With improved operations of government hospitals nationwide, including those in the BARMM, the autonomous region steered the management at tolerable level, even producing some of the country’s first recoveries from among the senior citizens when treatment was still in the hit-and-miss, or experimental stage.

Health Minister Dr. Saffrullah Dipatuan said last year that a 56-year-old and 61-year-old residents of Marawi City were successfully treated at the Amai Pakpak Medical Center in the city and recovered by March last year despite having existing medical conditions. They were some of the country’s first recorded recoveries.

The regional government also sent medical supplies to health facilities inside the six recognized camps of the MILF to improve their response to the pandemic. These were the camps in Maguindanao: Camp Rajamuda in General Salipada K. Pendatun, Camp Abubakar in Barira, Camp Badr in Guindulungan and Camp Omar in Datu Hoffer. The others were Camp Bushra Somiorang in Lumbayanague in Lanao del Sur, and Camp Bilal in Munai, Lanao del Norte.

Indeed, the tasks ahead are daunting, as the transition to a fully functioning, civilian-driven economic hub and development showcase continues. The peace is fragile, and full decommissioning of former combatants must proceed, albeit slowly. All this, in the shadow of the pandemic. Yet there is no other way to go but proceed down a risk-littered road to development.

Image courtesy of Google Earth

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