Cotabato-BASULTA direct flight, shipping route sought

COTABATO CITY – The Bangsamoro autonomous government is working out the establishment of direct flights and shipping routes between Maguindanao and the island component provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi to hasten the processes of delivering regional supplies and services to the archipelagic communities.

This was announced by regional spokesman and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo at the launch on Aug. 21 of the weekly “Tapatan” forum of the Bangsamoro Press Corps.

The 31-month old Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is composed of mainland Lanao del Sur (including Marawi City) and Maguindanao, and the island provinces of Basian (including Lamitan City), Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (known more as BASULTA), Cotabato City and 63-village special geographical are in North Cotabato.

Odds in lack of direct flights and shipping routes have surged in the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic since workers from BARMM ministries and line agencies could not deliver services and assistance to the island provinces promptly, according to Sinarimbo.

Bigger BARMM teams bound to the island provinces have to take the Cotabato-Manila, Manila-Zambo, and Zambo-Sulu routes and vice versa to be able to execute tasks, Sinarimbo said, noting large expenditures, irking stopovers and protracted travels involved.

Last March 29, Ministers Sinarimbo (local government), Eduard Guerra (public works), Raissa Jajurie (social welfare) and Ameril Usman (health) were able to undertake convergent inauguration and launch of infra projects in just a day in Sulu with the use of a private plane of Governor Sakur Tan that fetched them here in the morning and flew them back in the afternoon it was learned.

In 2020 and early this year, regional deliveries of pandemic-mitigating health supplies or equipment and relief goods were directly sent to the island provinces via Zambo City through a Philippine Air Force C-130 plane. A similar plane was used by a large delegation from the BARMM’s Ministry of the Interior and Local Government led by Sinarimbo to kick off construction of three town halls in Tawi-Tawi and hold a management committee meeting there last June.

Due ostensibly to the tragic crash of a PAF C-130 plane in Sulu that left 53 people killed, the possibility of BARMM’s use of a similar aircraft became remote. This is a sad factor that makes the opening of direct commercial flights and shipping routes to BASULTA corridor more imperative

At the “Tapatan” Forum, Sinarimbo said BARMM officials and concerned authorities have already initiated talks for the opening of the required direct flights and shipping routes.

Aeronautical and shipping maps refer to the Awang airport and the Polloc international seaport as Cotabato facilities. But the airport and wharf are actually situated in Datu Odin Sinsuat and Parang towns in Maguindanao, respectively.  

Sinarimbo said the shipment of desalination machines for Sulu and Tawi-Tawi last July 30 via the Polloc Port entailed a lot of difficulty – an experience affront to emergency movement.

Multi-pronged advantage

Minister Sinarimbo said the direct transport links, once established, can bring about multi-faceted advantages: Faster cargo and human movements; BASULTA peoples’ higher sense of belongingness in BARMM; and lesser incurrence of public funds in travels, among many others.

He said BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim also wants the conduct of BASULTA-related gatherings such as cabinet conferences in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi to effect the circulation of money within the area of autonomy.

Sinarimbo was optimistic that positive results would come out of the bilateral talks on the proposed opening of direct Cotabato-BASULTA transport links.

ALI G. MACABALANG

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