Aug 7, 2018

Mindanao’s pristine beaches could ease out Boracay as the country’s top tourist draw and become big industry winners under the newly-signed Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

But first, communities in southern Philippines must address security threats in their localities—such as the presence of armed groups—to convince visitors that it is safe to travel there.

Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri shared this vision as he discussed the merits of the BOL that gives enhanced autonomy and expands the coverage of the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Zubiri was invited to speak in Tuesday afternoon’s Inquirer Multi-Media forum as sponsor of the Senate version of the BOL. President Duterte formally presented the BOL on Monday after signing it into law two weeks ago.

migz zubiri inquirer
Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri explains the salient points of the newly-signed Bangsamoro Organic Law during Tuesday’s Inquirer Multi-Media forum attended by editors and executives of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inquirer Dot Net and Radyo Inquirer. At left is Inquirer Central Desk Chief Juliet Javellana.

While agreeing with concerns about terrorist groups operating in Mindanao, Zubiri expressed confidence that rebel leaders who helped craft the BOL will make good their word to return to the fold and contribute to building security in the south.

Zubiri hails from Bukidnon and is familiar with the tourist sites in southern Philippines.  At the Inquirer forum, the senator openly gushed about Mindanao’s beaches, especially the undisturbed waters surrounding Bongao island in Tawi-Tawi that he said could upstage the world-renown Boracay island in the Visayas.

Panguan island of Tawi Tawi. Photo courtesy of Philippine Canadian Inquirer

If peace and order is addressed under the BOL soon enough, local leaders can take a cue from Bohol investors who transformed beaches in their island into tourist attractions.

“The (Mindanao) communities should remove all security threats in their localities so that the visitors will not only feel welcome but safe from any problem of kidnapping or terrorism,” Zubiri said.

“They should employ tourist police all over to be a deterrent to those not convinced by the communities.  And if the residents see the funding and income achieved by tourism activities, then they will realize the importance of maintaining the peace and order in these areas,” he added.

Zubiri stressed that Boracay, currently off limits due to environmental concerns, “is nothing compared to” the beaches in Mindanao.

Dahican, a beach in Davao Oriental. Photo courtesy of Inquirer

“Sorry, some people might not agree with me but these areas are some of the best tourism sites that I’ve ever seen,” he said.

The senator recalled seeing “kilometers of white sand (that turn) to pink sand beaches with emerald blue waters, unspoiled by development, with no eyesores (like) unwanted structures.  Beautiful dive spots with an abundance of fish and unique underwater formations.”

Zubiri eyes a plan to declare certain spots in Mindanao as tourism zones that can attract visitors from nearby Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

“Once we get everything together there and we promote peace, tourism will flourish, especially in the island provinces,” he said.

Zubiri noted that the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed in 2014 already requires the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to “decommission” 30 percent of its armed members.

Once the BOL is ratified in a plebiscite, Zubiri said the law requires the decommissioning of another 30 percent of the MILF’s members.

The senator said religious leaders in Mindanao intend to use the BOL to convince colleagues “not to join the other side,” if not return to mainstream society.


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TAGS: bangsamoro bangsamoro organic law BOL migz zubiri Mindanao mindanao beaches philippine tourism philippines tourism