13 April 2010

ARMM turns to Subic Bay for port conversion project

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has sought the assistance of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) as it prepares to establish a free port at Parang town in the province of Maguindanao.

A 20-man delegation headed by ARMM acting regional Governor Ansaruddin Alonto Adiong recently visited this premier free port to learn about the “Subic miracle” — the successful conversion of this former military base into a special economic zone.

“We were overwhelmed—in terms of the organization and the development,” said David Ali, executive director of the ARMM Official Development Assistance Office.

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

Ali said ARMM officials have agreed to make Subic the model for the Polloc port in Parang in terms of management and structure. This came after 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, meanwhile, were in full force in assisting the visitors—briefing the ARMM officials on the administrative and technical requirements in the operation and management of a free port, the creation and 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 Freeport, 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 added.

Meanwhile, Ali admitted some doubt whether the ARMM team would be able to adopt all that they learned in Subic, where ”enormous development” has taken place since its establishment in 1992.

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

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.

He also said that after their exposure trip, the members of the ARMM management and technical group will meet as a management committee to plot out activities for the project launch set tentatively on April 19.

Polloc is one of the 24 barangays in Parang, a first-calss municipality in Maguindanao. 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 70’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.

The 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. (SBMA Corporate Communications)