The Bruneian

Things are looking up for Tawi-Tawi


Direct flights and new infrastruc­ture projects move Tawi-Tawi closer to becoming an important gateway for Muslim Mindanao to other parts of BIMPEAGA.

Along with Sulu and Basilan, Tawi-Tawi is part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and strategica­lly located near Borneo and other areas of the East ASEAN Growth Area. The three BARMM provinces have a long history of trade with their BIMP-EAGA neighbors.

BARMM was created in 2019 as part of a peace agreement to end nearly 5 decades of conflict between the government and secessioni­sts. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, BARMM’s economy expanded by 7.5% in 2021, the second-fastest growth among all regions in the country. Improved transport connectivi­ty Philippine­s Airlines started direct flights between Cotabato City and Tawi-Tawi on 9 June. The airline is the first to operate regular air travel services within BARMM. The twice weekly flights save travelers several hours. Previously, they had to fly via Manila or another gateway outside of BARMM, which sometimes even entailed an overnight stop.

Two bridges are being constructe­d to connect Bongao, the provincial capital, to neighborin­g island municipali­ties, which will cut travel time and bring economic benefits and opportunit­ies. The Asian Developmen­t Bank is supporting the bridge constructi­on under the $380-million Improving Growth Corridors in Mindanao Road Sector Project.

There is also a plan to develop an agricultur­al economic zone in Tawi-Tawi, one of four in BARMM that will tap growing opportunit­ies in the domestic and BIMP-EAGA halal markets. The developmen­t of these agro-ecozones will be accompanie­d by improvemen­ts in transport connectivi­ty (e.g., fast craft, roll-on/roll-off services) and logistic systems. It will promote the integratio­n of rural suppliers in the supply chain.

Untapped economic and tourism potential

Located in the Sulu Archipelag­o, Tawi-Tawi is the southernmo­st province of the Philippine­s and located in one of the least developed regions in the country. Improving access to this resourceri­ch province will unlock its economic and tourism potential.

Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim hailed the regular flights between Cotabato City and TawiTawi as a historic event that opens the doors to trade and business opportunit­ies for the province and the region. It will make it easier for more people to experience the beauty of Tawi-Tawi’s islands.

The cluster of islands that make up the province is a key biodiversi­ty area of internatio­nal significan­ce. The waters surroundin­g Tawi-Tawi are part of the Coral Triangle and are rich in marine biodiversi­ty. Six of its islands comprise the Turtle Islands sanctuary, a major nesting ground for the endangered green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in Southeast Asia. Bud Bongao or Bongao Peak is one of the 12 key biodiversi­ty sites in the country. At about 340 meters above sea level, it is the highest point in the province. The Bongao Peak Eco-Tourism Park is home to rare white monkeys, wild boars, and other wild animals.

Other tourist attraction­s in the province are the Panampanga­n Island, said to be the longest sandbar in the country at 3 kilometers; Sangay Siapuh Island, considered as the little Maldives of the south; and the Sheik Karimul Makhdum Mosque, which was built in 1380, making it the oldest mosque in the Philippine­s.

Fishing and seaweed farming are the main sources of livelihood

in the province. It is the largest seaweed producer in the country.

The Mindanao Developmen­t Authority (MinDA) is supporting several initiative­s to help seaweed farmers become climate-resilient and more productive. The Renewable Energy Technology to Increase Value-Added of Seaweeds in Tawi-Tawi (RETS) Project under the European Union’s Access to Sustainabl­e Energy Program is helping strengthen the economic and climate resilience of seaweed farming communitie­s by building solar hybrid energy systems on the island municipali­ties of Sibutu and Sitangkai.

The Seaweed Research and Developmen­t Center at Mindanao State University Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanograp­hy is producing a new strain of diseaseres­istant and climate-resilient seaweeds, and it is counting on MinDA’s help in setting up seaweed processing plants and storage facilities. Establishi­ng industryba­sed shared facilities is part of MinDa’s Mindanao Developmen­t Agenda to ensure the productivi­ty and resilience of the agricultur­e and fisheries sectors.

Barter trade in BASULTA-EAGA

MinDA, the Philippine­s’ coordinati­ng office for BIMP-EAGA, is also working with BARMM’s Ministry of Trade, Investment­s and Tourism to finalize the

implementi­ng the rules and regulation­s for a formalized barter trading system, which is expected to further boost economic activities in Tawi-Tawi and the region.

In 2018, then Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 64 that created the Mindanao Barter Council and identified the ports of Siasi and Jolo in Sulu and Bongao in Tawi-Tawi as the barter ports.

The Greater Sulu–Sulawesi maritime corridor is the nerve center of barter trade in BIMPEAGA, particular­ly in agricultur­e and aquacultur­e products. The corridor covers four routes: Palawan–Sabah, Zamboanga Peninsula–Sabah, Davao (Davao del Sur), and General Santos– North Sulawesi. The Zamboanga Peninsula–Sabah route includes Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, collective­ly known as BASULTA.

A 2020 study shows that barter trade persisted between Mindanao and Borneo despite movement restrictio­ns to curb the spread of COVID-19. It notes that the BASULTA area is highly dependent on the informal shipment of goods from Sabah, including Malaysian noodles, instant coffee, and blackmarke­t cigarettes. With the recent oil price hikes, barter traders in Mindanao are also cashing in on cheaper fuel sourced from Sandakan district in Sabah.

 ?? ?? Philippine Airlines launched direct flights between Cotabato City and Tawi-Tawi on 9 June 2022.Image: Mindanao
Philippine Airlines launched direct flights between Cotabato City and Tawi-Tawi on 9 June 2022.Image: Mindanao

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