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BARMM's RoRo Maguindanao-Basilan maiden voyage

BARMM's RoRo Maguindanao-Basilan maiden voyage
Dr. Pilar “Lalay” Ramos Jimenez April 30, 2023

THE launching of the first RoRo (roll-on/roll-off) shipping route at Celebes Sea, between the Polloc Freeport in Parang, Maguindanao del Norte and Lamitan Port, Basilan, on Tuesday, April 25, was a historic event because this would significantly alter the commerce, tourism, travel, social and cultural relations between the people of the mainland and island provinces in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). This new shipping pathway is an offshoot of the region's Transport Logistics Roadmap, which the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MoTC) and the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) crafted, with technical support from the United States for International Development (USAid) through the Regulatory Reform Support Program for National Development (Respond) project of the University of the Philippines Public Administration Research and Extension Services Foundation. The Maguindanao-Basilan RoRo shipping route is the first of a series of RoRo shipping routes in the BARMM. The second one will connect Lamitan Port to Jolo Port in Sulu, while the third route will link Jolo Port to Bongao Port, Tawi-Tawi. It is heartening to know that the two subsequent RoRo connections will also take place within 2023.

The Bangsamoro Maritime Industry Authority (BMarina) board approved the first transport route, and gave a special permit to the RoRo operator, the privately owned Saiidi Agri-Farm and Trading Inc. (Safti). The ship named "MV Island Paradise" can carry around 100 passengers and 10-12 loaded trucks per one-way trip. Rice, construction materials, consumer goods, appliances and equipment can be transported from Cotabato City, while agri-fishery products from Basilan can be hauled back to Cotabato City.

The travel time of eight hours is reportedly "40 percent faster than the current travel time of 12-14 hours for land transport between Cotabato and Zamboanga City, then by a one-hour boat ride from Zamboanga City to Lamitan, Basilan." I can fully appreciate this reduced travel time, because in one of my research activities, I have personally experienced the long and tiring overland trip from Cotabato City to Zamboanga City where I had to stay overnight, to be able to catch the one-hour morning flight to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. Aside from a faster travel time, the RoRo trip from Cotabato to Basilan, and eventually to Sulu and to Tawi-Tawi, will be more comfortable (except perhaps during "habagat" or the warm and wet southwest monsoon wind season from May to September) than the land travel.

What was the technical support extended to the BARMM by USAid-Respond to bring about this vital change in the transport system of the region?

Dr. Enrico Basilio, chief of party of USAid-Respond, said after agreeing to a request of MinDA for technical assistance to help the MoTC develop BARMM's Transport Logistics Road Map, the USAid-Respond signed a memorandum of understanding on June 22, 2022. The tasks included research, a Regulatory Burden Impact Assessment, capacity-building of BARMM officials and staff about transport planning and infrastructure development and holding of a series of multi-stakeholder workshops that engaged private sector support for maritime connectivity in the region. While conducting research and inventory about the maritime industry and regulations, a "low hanging fruit" was found serendipitously, i.e., the availability of privately owned RoRo vessels, but there was no shipping route that would enable this ship to operate in the region. Thus, the task of creating the shipping route from Maguindanao del Norte to Basilan was an offshoot of the Transport Logistic Roadmap endeavor.