The much daunted “global crisis” has prompted some of the world’s leading financial technocrats and managers to review and redefine their respective country’s existing trading and economic policies in order to mitigate the long –term.

In this case of the Philippines, our country is “probably fortunate” to have the usual financial miracle coming from the much need Dollar remittances from the more than Ten (10) million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) that span from Europe \, Middle East, Austral-Asia and the continental United States including all oceans of the world (of course, we have to include our seafarers). The infusion of the green bucks from our OFWs, more often stabilizes the country’s Balance of Payment thereby alleviating our country’s dependency on the U.S. dollar.

But for how long are we going to be dependent on our OFW remittances in order to literally save our economy from unforeseen fortuitous economic events? As an economic policy direction, are we going to maintain our global niche as the foremost labor export producing country in the next Thirty (30) years? Do we have a choice?

          Although our President had infused some major structural economic reforms in order to jeep our country’s economy resilient in the face of this global economic downturn, our policy makers in government (both local and national) should collectively look for some ways and means to find for some durable and lasting solutions in order to galvanize our domestic economy and make the same as the bulwark of progress and development, and not relying heavily on overseas remittances,

If one has to review the present political grouping of nations around the world , by way of dissecting the major political and social events that had influenced mankind in the las 1,500 years, and likewise basing it from the historical perspective presented to us by   Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, Western historians we could readily agree primarily that nations of today is practically an indirect by-product of “trade” of natural resources, most specially, food commodities that cannot be found in Europe. These are the silk trade route to China the European demand for sugar and spices from the Indies , the European thirst for coffee from Africa and South America (gold as well), the European demand for tea from Asia, the discovery of oil in the Arabian peninsula, the establishment of the British East India  Company to oversee (later govern) India’s natural resources and the commodities (which eventually led mahatma Gandhi to dramatize the plight of his people against the imposition of “salt taxes”, and later on went to something politically bigger leading to India’s gaining of independence). Yet these are just few of the myriad economic events (that involves trade) that had crucially shaped the culture and political destinies and divisions of most countries in Asia, Africa and America.

          In other words, trade plays a major role not only in the economic but in the socio-political survival of a nation. As can be analyzed in the foregoing examples, we can simply say that the reason why societies of men engage in trading activity since time immemorial is because of their ultimate need of filling up their stomach of food for survival and hoarding natural resources for their nations survival, And because of this, strong nations have emerged out of the societies of those men who have perfected the art and power of trade, in particular, the shipping trade. It is on this context that we have to examine on untapped corner in the Philippines where all the potential elements of becoming a major trading post in Southeast Asia are present and that is, the Southern part of Palawan province.

          We start with the story of garlic, onion, cooking oil, sugar, tea, coffee, fish, noodles, and the likes, all “small foodstuffs” and bits and pieces of natural resources fo man’s everyday needs and for his stomach – foodstuffs and natural resources that had redefined the global political landscape of mankind for the last 500 years. Small items they may seem, but indeed history would tell us that they had shaped i rub-shaped many a nation. And this is where we contemplate on how to shape the economic direction of our nation through starting on the simple trade of these commodities with our neighbors and vice-versa, which would probably lead into something economically rewarding in the future. The idea here is to start small and simple.

          For 1,500 years, the people of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Southern Palawan have been trading their foodstuffs with their neighbors from Sabah, Malaysia and even in Indonesia, simply because it is near and convenient for them, Peace abounds in their societies despite some small tribal conflicts. They socially interact and trade with each other, There were no known political, social and cultural boundaries to speak about. It was only until the advent of the British the Spanish and the American colonization period, and the aftermath of World War II that most of our societies in this part of Southeast Asia were politically, socially and culturally divided,

          However despite the political developments that had happened in the lastly 500 years in our area and as we have entered the dawn of the 21st century, our Southern peoples have persisted in their trading activities along with their counterparts in Malaysia, Bournei and Indonesia. This unorganized activity of informal trading for
“small foodstuffs” and bits and pieces of natural resources (which is actually vital fir their survival), is somewhat oblivious to the mind of the today’s planner, which at present, has actually redounded to indirectly inducing security problems in terms of smuggling, social apathy lawlessness, criminalities, and the likes due to the absence of CIVILIAN government infrastructure, such as, Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Security (Coast Guard and Police), or otherwise known as CIQS, to take care in processing this trading and the movement of people.

          Since no CIVILIAN authorities are checking them every time they cross the border to buy onion, garlic, cooking oil and even gasoline or diesel to fuel their generators (since there is no electricity in their area), they would rather do their marketing in Kudat, Sandagan, Kota kinabalo, Lubuan or even in Brunei, which would only take them between 30 minutes to 5 hours of se travel, depending in the distance of the place where they are coming from.

           In today’s political and economic language this is purely illegal, but in the language of these people, this activity is “legal” since their forefathers have been doing this for hundreds of years. In the case if the people in Blabac and Mangsee Islands, their dilemma is also exacerbated by the fact that if they force themselves to buy their daily supply from Puerto Princesa City, It would take them one day to reach their destination by sea and by land, in addition to spending a lot of money and fuel, fare, and lodging expenses, notwithstanding that the prices of goods there, are far more expensive that in Sabah.

          This story may be considered a cliché by some of our economic planners, since they would say that thus problem is just a typical one befalling those people living in the far-flung areas of Southern Mindanao, and this situation has been a perennial problem of the government way back during the time of President Marcos. They would further add that our government then, in order to uplift the living conditions of our Muslim and Christian brothers in those areas, had established the barter trade posts in Zamboanga and Jolo, but subsequently it failed due to some abuses. So what is new about this trade? Why push for it since it will just fail anyway like the barter trade posts in Zamboanga and Jolo.

          Of coursem the big difference is, in  a ”barter  trade”, one has a concession from the government where goods coming from Sabah are free of tax, while in “conventional trade”, one has to pay the corresponding duties and taxes accruing the imported goods.

          At this junctuyre, if we pause for a while and reflect on the geo-political configurtation of Southern Plawan (temporarily putting aside Zamboanga, Basilan, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi from our discussion), vis-à-vis its economic potential, one would discover the following facts:

  • There are more than half a million people living in Southern Palawan. Since most of them use sea transportation to go to Manila it normally takes the almost two (2) days to reach their destination. Goods in Palawan become expensive because of expensive freight cost.
  • Travel time by sea from the Southernmost tip of Plaawan to Kudat, Kota Kinabalo, Labuan or Brunei is between 30 minutes to 5 hours, depending on the place where they come from (and also depending on the speed of the boat as well).
  • A lot of goods, supplies and materials are cheaper in Sabah as compared to buyinh the same in puerto Princesa City, since most of them come from Manila, where time, freight, man-hours, shipping turn-around are added costs.
  • Strait of Balabac is considered a vital international sea lane since most ships coming from Singapore or the Strait of Malacca bounded for the U.S. pass through this water. Lord Stamford Raffles, if he is alive today, would also envisage Southern Palawan as the next Singapore in Asia. During his time, nobody would ever thought that Singapore would eventually metamorphose as a world renowned shipping hub, except that this Island is adjacent to the Strait of Malacca, Like Southern Palawan is adjacent to the Strait of Balabac.
  • Philippines had initiated in the ASEAN an economic program of an increase in free trade coupled with “zero tariff” rate in the year 2020. Opening Southern Palawan to the world through initializing the conventional trade with Sabah may open a floodgate of unquantifiable economic opportunities for the Philippines.
  • Eighty (80) percent of goods in “169” Divisoria and most stores in Baclaran (probably even in SM and Rustans) are either imported from China, Thailand, U.S., Malaysia, Singapore, etc. Why can’t Southern Palawan import the same goods from Sabah and sell the same to its local stores since traders would pay the same duties and taxes anyway? Simply because, there is no established conventional trade in Southern Palawan from abroad for the reason tha it lacks the administrative government infrastructure such as the CIQS.
  • Southern Palawan has a big potential to become the next “168” Divisoria or a wholesale trade center of goods not found in Manila (or found to be expensive). This, luring big Filipino businessmen to trade wholesale in this area. The RORo p[ort in Taytay (North of Palawan mainland) will be completed before the end of the year, and travel time to Manila from this port would only take approximately 12 to 15 hours, as compared with the present travel time of almost 48 hours. In a way, this will encourage traders to buy wholesale goods and materials from Palawan bought from Sabah, thence, transport the same to Manila and oother point of destinations in Luzon.
  • Direct flight from Puerto Pirncesa to Kota Kinabalo is only approximately 40 minutes; a great potential for tourism. In fact, one airline has started commercial flights that costs P2.800 which is cheaper than flying to Manila from Puerto Pricesa. One could practically spend his time in Kota Kinabalo and Brunei over the weekend since there is no visa requirement. The same holds true for tourists coming from Sabah who would want to visit Palawan.
  • Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have a combined consumer population of approximately 300 million, coupled with and abundance of skilled and talented manpower, as well as natural resources.