COTABATO CITY – Investment officials in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are optimistic that the formal inclusion of Cotabato City to the BARMM will boost the region’s investment prospects.
Lawyer Ishak Mastura, chair of Regional Board of Investments (RBOI), said cursory business surveys point out that Cotabato City, due to its strategic location is the “de facto” financial center of Central Mindanao, having the most number of banks and bank branches in the area.
“Cotabato City even has its own Central Bank regional office, which many other similar-sized cities cannot boast of,” Mastura said in a statement Tuesday.
Mastura said BARMM is considered the most underbanked region in the country with only the government-owned Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) having the most branches in the region.
While LBP recently opened its first bank in Lamitan City, Basilan, it already operates three branches in Cotabato City.
“Now that Cotabato City is expected to soon become part of the region, the banking profile of BARMM would improve dramatically,” Mastura said.
Cotabato City has the most number of banks and bank branches in the region. About one-third of all banks in the region are situated in the city.
“These factors make Cotabato City the natural financial center of BARMM,” Mastura said.
The city has long been serving as the provisional capital of BARMM with the Bangsamoro government complex located in the city.
“With the BARMM government having an annual block grant amounting to PHP70 billion this year and PHP75 billion next year going through the banking system in Cotabato City, this volume of money alone cements its role as the financial center of the region,” he said.
Besides, government funds also go through the city to service the needs of the military in the region with the 6th Infantry Division, one of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ biggest divisions in terms of personnel and material resources and budget, located in the vicinity.
International donors and official development assistance from foreign aid agencies including the agencies of the United Nations, which have programs to assist the BARMM, also course their money through the city’s financial ecosystem internationalizing its fund sources further.
This is aside from the huge remittances flowing to its banks from overseas Filipino workers, of which Central Mindanao is a top recruiter and source for several years now, particularly for those bound for the Middle East.
Mastura also said his agency is promoting Cotabato City as the Islamic banking and finance hub not only of the region but also of the country.
“Under the Investment Priority Plan 2020 recently signed by President Rodrigo Duterte, only investment operations in the BARMM of Islamic banks and financial institutions can enjoy fiscal incentives from RBOI, such as Income Tax Holidays and Reduced Duties and Tariffs for imported capital equipment,” Mastura said.
Currently, the Al-Amanah Islamic Investment Bank is the only Islamic bank that operates in the country and has a branch in Cotabato City.
This is set to change with last year’s passage of Republic Act 11439 or the Philippine Islamic Banking Act.
“Together with RBOI Board of Governor Mohamad Pasigan, we recently talked with the Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines in order for MayBank, which is Malaysian-owned and its biggest bank, to open a branch in Cotabato City and eventually for its Islamic banking subsidiary, MayBank Islamic, the largest Islamic bank in Asean, to follow shortly,” he said. (PNA)