Mindanao Times editorial: Missing the point
The statement of National Economic Development Authority chief Romulo Neri, which essentially thumbed down the efforts to bolster the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), drew flak from several Mindanaoans.
And understandably so, considering the gains the sub-regional cooperation generated over the years. Granted, these are not high-profile developments that would warrant a picture taking from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo or other officials from Manila but the progress is real, nevertheless.
Neri missed the point when he said that EAGA is not the natural economic partner for Mindanao because it’s composed of “all-poor countries.” The contrary is much more accurate. Their being “all poor” makes the EAGA the most natural undertaking. You just don’t see entrepreneurs from the slums teaming up with tycoons to set up a business and that’s the same image we get from Neri’s logic that China, Korea, Japan and Australia are our natural economic partners.
The point of EAGA is the collaboration itself. The partnership includes economic (i.e. Jose Abad Santos, Glan and Sarangani-Cooperation Triangle); conservation (Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion) and security (like the Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Security agreement).
Also, air linkages between Davao and Manado were established through the EAGA. If all goes well, according to East Asian Growth Area tourism chair Mary Ann Montemayor, new linkages between Zamboanga City and Sandakan as well as Kota Kinabalu and Davao are in the table. These are routes that much bigger airlines, including the country’s flag carrier, refused to service due to lack of traffic. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
That was especially apparent when the 1997 financial crisis hit most of the Southeast Asian region, threatening to break up the collaboration even before it could fully take off the ground as the four member countries struggled to survive. That was a lesson in how brittle the cooperation was; that was a lesson in how important EAGA is. The point is not to look at the other member countries as a source of investments but rather partners in engaging much bigger and richer countries.
After all, EAGA is not a big-brother-little-brother concept but four little brothers working together so that big brother would take notice. Clearly, the regional cooperation has a long way to go but to say it’s on the wrong track would be a disservice to the number of people who have been working hard to look elsewhere after feeling neglected by the national government. (Courtesy of Mindanao Times 27 February 2006 issue.)