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Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and National Economic Development Authority director general Dr Emmanuel Esguerra

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and National Economic Development Authority director general Dr Emmanuel Esguerra

The Philippine government is developing and enhancing certain sea routes connecting Mindanao with other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to boost economic activities including tourism, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

With Mindanao playing a critical role in the ASEAN Economic Community, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and NEDA director general Dr Emmanuel Esguerra said enhanced physical connectivity “is a requisite for the seamless movement of goods and tradeable services.”

To accomplish this, certain sea linkages will either be established or enhanced, including those in Zamboanga-Sandakan (Malaysia); Davao/General Santos-Bitung, Manado (Indonesia); Zamboanga-Muara (Brunei); and Tawi-tawi-Tarakan (Indonesia), Esguerra said in a recent presentation at the second Mindanao Shipping Conference 2016 in Davao City.

The sea linkages are part of the Mindanao Spatial Strategy/Development Framework (MSS/DF) drafted by the NEDA Board Regional Development Committee-Mindanao Area Committee to provide “policy options for managing land and other physical resources of the Mindanao island according to the three National Spatial Strategy (NSS) priorities of concentration, connectivity and vulnerability reduction.”

Esguerra said among the framework’s objectives is to “set up an efficient intra-ASEAN connectivity through integrated multimodal transport systems” while the long-term direction is the establishment or upgrade of sea transport routes to boost economic activities including tourism.

Moreover, Esguerra said under the MSS/DF, “the Davao region shall be positioned as the Southeast Asia and Pacific logistics hub of Mindanao.”

He noted, however, that “Mindanao seaport facilities need to be improved to accommodate increasing cargo volume and passenger traffic” and “performance and capacity of strategic seaports shall be further upgraded.”

He pointed to a report on Davao region’s ASEAN Economic Community integration readiness scorecard, which gauges the level of preparedness of the area’s local capacities compared with the national level on the progress of compliance with international commitments.

The report showed that Davao needs to fast track completion of major infrastructure projects, specifically, modern sea and airports of international standards.

Among the major issues highlighted in the document, Esguerra said, is the limited capacity of Mindanao seaports when it comes to berthing structure, transit/cargo shed area for non-containerized cargo, container yard for containerized cargo, and passenger terminal building.

He added there is also a “need to reduce domestic cargo rates as rates in Mindanao tend to be more expensive than foreign cargo rates.”

Efficient logistics is likewise needed to support priority industry clusters in the region, such as abaca, banana, bangus, cacao, coconut, durian, livestock, poultry, and seaweed. Esguerra said these industries “are in fact imbued with good export potential but would need the support of efficient logistics to be able to contribute more to the economy.”

During the same conference, Davao Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Bonifacio Tan said part of Mindanao shippers’ wish list is the reduction of domestic freight rates, especially for agricultural products bound for other Philippine destinations. Tan noted that because of high domestic freight rates, poultry and hog raisers in Manila choose to import corn despite the abundance of the produce in Davao.

Meanwhile, Esguerra said 17 major transport programs, both ongoing and proposed, in Region XI have been included in the initial list of the government’s new Three-Year Rolling Infrastructure Program (TRIP) that will start in 2017.

These include the Matanao-Kiblawan-Padada Road, Mawab-Maragusan-Caraga Road, Davao City Bypass construction, San Agustin-Sto. Niño-Kisulad-Tubalan Port Road, Sarangani Island Circumferential Road, and Sugarcane Farm-To-Mill Roads with Block Farms.

TRIP promotes the optimal use of public resources for infrastructure development by assuring fund allocation for three years for well-developed and readily implementable projects.

A modified version of the Comprehensive and Integrated Infrastructure Program, which provides a consolidated list of all infrastructure programs of the government, TRIP puts more emphasis on immediate priorities to be undertaken in three-year periods, according to the NEDA chief. – Roumina Pablo

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