DAVAO CITY — Air and sea connectivity between the Philippines and its neighbors within the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines (BIMP) sub-region will form a major portion of the Philippine delegation’s agenda during a strategic planning assembly next week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Mindanao and Palawan are the focus areas in the Philippines under the BIMP-East ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Growth Area.
The annual meeting of BIMP-EAGA officials, scheduled this year for Feb 15-18, is intended to review and assess the implementation of priority programs and projects of under the sub-region’s blueprint for 2012 to 2016.
Romeo M. Montenegro, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) investment promotions and public affairs director, said the meeting will allow government agencies of the member-states to discuss and agree on requirements that will help the private sector in establishing the air and sea links to improve trade and tourism.
MinDA recently convened a meeting with government line agencies and the key players in the tourism, trade, and academic sectors to take more proactive and aggressive steps in re-establishing the connectivity between the two BIMP-EAGA cities.
The group initially agreed to push for a market development strategy for the Davao-Manado route.
Datu Ik Pahon Anak Joyik, head of the Ministry of Tourism of Sarawak and Chair of the BIMP-EAGA Joint Tourism Development Cluster, pointed out in a meeting last year how the Philippines has the weakest transport links among the four countries.
“Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei are quite connected, but it is the Philippines which is quite disconnected from the other EAGA regions so we must do something to improve this,” Mr. Joyik said during last year’s BIMP-EAGA Joint Tourism Development Meeting held in Zamboanga City.
Assistant Secretary Arturo P. Boncato Jr. of the Department of Tourism (DOT) said there are already existing incentive packages for private investment related to improving connectivity within EAGA.
Among these are Executive Order No. 29, signed in 2011, which paved the way for a more liberalized aviation industry and the Open Sky Policy that allows airlines to fly in a secondary destination without reciprocity requirements.
The Philippine government also offers a 50% discount for landing and take-off fees in its EAGA airports and there is a pending proposal to implement a waiver on the travel tax for Filipinos traveling from Mindanao and Palawan to the EAGA areas.
Mr. Boncato said local airline companies have signaled interest to serve the route between Zamboanga City in western Mindanao and Sandakan in Malaysia.
“Philippine airlines are seriously looking at the establishment of a Zamboanga-Sandakan route, but this can take time because it is still in the initial stages,” he said.
There is also a possibility of reviving the air link between Puerto Princesa in Palawan and Kota Kinabalu, which used to be serviced by MASwings Sdn. Berhad, but stopped for lack of passengers.
Mr. Boncato said cruise ships are another potential transport alternative, especially for Puerto Princesa as it is being positioned as a major cruise destination.
The BIMP-EAGA economic cooperation covers a land area of 1.54 million square kilometers with some 70 million people within the potential market.
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