Wednesday, April 14, 2010

ARMM bids to replicate Subic Free Port’s feat

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is bidding to replicate in its infant free port facility the success and progress of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority following the recent visit of regional officials to the former American military naval base in Olongapo City in Luzon Island.

Acting Regional Governor Ansaruddin Alonto-Adiong, leading a 20-man ARMM team, visited the SBMA last week to learn about its successful transformation into a special economic zone.

The ARMM delegation sought the assistance of the SBMA to provide insights on the premier free port’s operations as the Adiong administration set launched massive efforts to establish a replica in the village of Polloc in Maguindanao's Parang town.

“We are overwhelmed in terms of the organization and the development of the SBMA - from a former military base to what it is now,” said David Ali, executive director of the ARMM Official Development Assistance Office.

Ali added: “Before we came to SBMA, we had zero knowledge on how to establish our own free port. We made the visit to gather information on how to start the process, and yet we now have some knowledge on long-term operations.”

He said ARMM officials have agreed to make Subic the model for the Polloc port in terms of management and structure.

It may be recalled that Adiong declared on March 15 the development of the port of Polloc as a free port, and of the host village of Polloc as a special economic zone.

SBMA officials led by Chairman Feliciano Salonga and Administrator Armand Arreza welcomed and briefed the ARMM delegation on the administrative and technical requirements in the operation and management of a free port, and the establishment of a one-stop shop center, as well as marketing strategies.

“Of course, we’ve had our ups and downs in running the Subic Bay free port, but then again, we managed to bounce back each time and regain our momentum,” Arreza told the ARMM officials.

“And I’m glad that people continue to look up to Subic whenever they need to hear some success story,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ali expressed reservations on whether the ARMM team could adopt all that it learned in Subic where ”enormous development” has taken place since 1992.

“But we always keep in mind what Governor Adiong tells us — if we don’t start to move, we will not accomplish anything,” Ali said. “Fortunately for us, we don’t have to fumble in the dark, because we have Subic as our template.”

Ali said the ARMM free port project would basically focus on starting up economic activities in Polloc, and then marketing the area in both the national and the BIMP-EAGA (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East Asian Growth Area) levels.

The Adiong-led team was joined by Ali, ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo; Polloc Port Administrator Moharrim Mohammad; among others.

Mohammad said that after their visit, the members of the ARMM management and technical group will meet to plot activities for the project launch set tentatively on April 19.

Polloc is one of the 24 villages in Parang, a first-class municipality.

The area’s main access to trade is the Port of Polloc, which was built by the Korean firm Nam Kwang Construction, Ltd. in the 1970’s through a P150-million funding from the Asian Development Bank.

The port of Polloc was then described by the Philippine Ports Authority as the “most modern facility outside Metro Manila” because it was equipped with a main wharf, lighter docks, transit sheds, and wide back-up areas fit for medium industries and processing plants.

ARMM is among the country's top producers of fish and marine resources, particularly seaweed, which is used in manufacturing toothpaste, cosmetics and paints. It also has large mineral deposits, including copper and gold.

Before the ARMM delegation, several foreign groups have visited Subic to learn about its conversion process. These included groups from Panama, South Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and just recently, Brunei. (Ali G. Macabalang)

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