Maguindanao wharf declared a free port
By Ali G. Macabalang
Parang, Maguindanao (17 March) -- Bouncing back from what technocrats lamented as operational deprivation in power devolution, the Polloc Port here finally sees a ray of light in its two-decade quest to open investments and stimulate growth in the impoverished Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The prospects brightened after acting ARMM Governor Ansaruddin A. Adiong declared Monday the facility as a Free Port and the host barangay Polloc as a Special Economic Zone in the autonomous region.
Adiong signed the proclamation in formal ceremonies highlighting the equally unprecedented convergence of top ARMM officials and heads of over a dozen of foreign donor-institutions at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel in Madaluyong City Monday morning.
Lawyer Ishak Mastura, chairman of the ARMM Board of Investment, extolled the proclamation, saying: "We've waited long for this proclamation and we are grateful to Acting Regional Governor Adiong for doing it in pursuit of his vision to spur accelerated growth in the region."
Mastura, then Trade and Industry regional secretary, conceived and pushed for the declaration of the regional economic zone and the free port during the first ARMM business congress in 2003.
Polloc Port Manager Harry Mohammad said the declaration marked a "historic beginning for the facility, not anymore as a ?vision of the future' after years of operation weathering political upheavals, natural and man-made calamities that characterized the Mindanao conflict."
Mohammad said the Port was dubbed as "vision of the future" when it was constructed in the late 70s by the Korean Nam Kwang Construction, Ltd. with P150-million fund from the Asian Development Bank under the Marcos era.
The Polloc Port was classified then by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) as the country's "most modern facility outside Metro Manila equipped with main wharf, lighter docks, transit sheds and wide back-up areas fit for medium industries and processing plants, he said.
The ARMM government under the Aquino administration named the Polloc Port an international facility, pursuing an uphill campaign to make it a stimulus of regional economic growth.
The momentum, however, nose dived when the national government through the PPA devolved the operations of wharves in ARMM including Port of Polloc to the regional autonomous governance sans the manpower item-positions and the corresponding funds in 2002.
In recent problem-solving meetings, regional officials led by ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo had crafted measures to push for the immediate declaration of the facility as free port and enhance its operations from the grim effects of the lamentable devolution process, setting up Monday's occasion.
According to Sinarimbo and Mohammad, Monday's declaration posed a "hard work" for the new ARMM leadership to "buck down to work and realize a giant mission of achieving a vibrant maritime hub" in mainland Mindanao.
The ARMM officials appealed to maritime industry players and foreign donor-institutions to "help us attain this goal and push the ARMM towards a greater height."
In response, officials of the World Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Asian Development Bank, Canadian International Dev't Agency, Asia Foundation, International Labor Organization, USAID, UNFPA, UNIDO, ILO, UNDP and other foreign institutions assured continued assistance to ARMM.
ARMM is composed of the cities of Marawi and Lamitan and the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, which all have been lagging behind in various development dimensions.
National authorities have blamed the ARMM's slow growth to peace and order problems, but regional economists argued that the region's dismal share from the central government funding supports coupled with stringent national laws and policies is the "main impeding factor."
In his campaign salvo, manager Mohammad said the free port would attract potential partners and investors for industrial estates, export processing, free trade, commercial centers, enterprises and tourism ventures, among others.
He said the port, being the major trading backdoor in the south, would initially operate actively in the commercial ventures of the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines' East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).
Tax holidays, capital equipment incentives, exemptions from real property and local taxes, and attractive build-operate and transfer scheme await investors in Barangay Polloc, the just-declared special economic zone, which lies in the southern coast of the harbour 14-kilometer north of Cotabato City, he said. (BPI/PIA9-BST) [top]