Anton Mari Lim worked hard during the May elections to help President Aquino win the presidency.
After that he returned to his private practice as a veterinarian in Zamboanga City while managing his own livestock farm in Zamboanga City.
To be candid about it, he says, working for the bureaucracy wasn’t meant for him. But Lim, like hundreds of volunteers in the Aquino presidential campaign, are not really shying away from their promise to help the new government.
As executive committee member of the People Power Volunteers, which groups 17 die-hard Aquino organizations, Lim said they can still make a difference in his home city and the entire Zamboanga peninsula, which he said was practically abandoned by the national government in the past since it was identified as always an “opposition country.”
For one, he said that Zamboanga is supposed to be an agricultural and trading hub in Mindanao.
Yet their produce has to be brought to Manila before it can be exported to nearby countries belonging to the BIMP-EAGA (Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines-East Asean Growth Area).
The city alone is located in the southernmost tip of the Zamboanga peninsula, facing the northeast of Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, northeast of Manado in Indonesia.
Although the city boasts of an international air and sea ports, they don’t have any facilities to make Zamboanga a transshipment point to the neighboring countries.
“We’re supposed to be the exit and entry point to the BIMP-EAGA, but the irony there is whatever shipment Zamboanga has for export, we have to ship it all the way to Manila,” he said.
That means they have to bear the unnecessary freight cost, which is more expensive than shipping goods directly from Zamboanga to major export outlets.
But looking at it, Zamboanga is now the No. 1 producer of canned sardines with nearly 95 per cent of all brands in the Philippine market being processed there. Marine and inland fisheries have become major industries in Zamboanga, apart from shipbuilding, oil milling, wood products and manufacturing. It has access to major fishing grounds like the Moro Gulf, Sindangan Bay and the Pilas Channel.
The entire peninsula is also known for its seaweed production, copra and other by-products of coconut oil, and the city alone houses the most modern coconut oil faculties in the country. Yet until now, there are no custom brokerages in that part of the region because government merely placed in paper Zamboanga’s importance as a transshipment point to the BIMP-EAGA.
So Lim said their work is far from over. They have to convince the new government to finally address the problem that Zamboanga is facing. He said they have presented a “wish list” to the President to seriously look at making Zamboanga a transshipment area.
Lim noted that there is also a Freeport and ecozone that can really jump-start the transformation of Zamboanga into a transshipment hub. For starters, the ecozone can also be transformed into an agriculture center. It already established a 64.7 hectare area for the first industrial park and another 664.68 hectares for its second site. There is also a second development site which consists of 15,391 hectares of highlands that is ideal for agro-forestry, eco-tourism, high-end residential neighborhood and possible retirement and university villages.
“Ang problema natin yung investments would come only if we have the proper support, “he said.
It’s high time that our policy makers should realize that development is not only a political decision, but should consider the request of private sector volunteers whose only wish is to be partners of government in development work. That, in a nutshell, is people empowerment. Joel Paredes