Philippines’ new region turns to Middle East for investment

Rebels turned troopers finish the basic military training. (AN photo)
Updated 03 September 2019

Philippines’ new region turns to Middle East for investment

  • It is designed to provide enhanced self-governance to the Muslim-majority provinces

MANILA: The interim chief minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Murad Ibrahim, told Arab News on Monday that he was encouraging the international business community to consider investing in the newly established region

The BARMM is the new regional and political entity established under a peace agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippines government early this year.

It is designed to provide enhanced self-governance to the Muslim-majority provinces. “It is very important for investors to come, in order to create job opportunities and also for the international community to see that something is happening on the ground,” Murad said.

In an interview conducted at his office in Cotabato City, Murad told Arab News that plans were afoot to hold an investors’ forum. “We are just finalizing our development plan.”

When questioned on how they would lure foreign businesses to invest in the region, Murad said that there is now relative peace in the region. “In fact, gradually many investors are now coming here to visit. So, I think it’s because of the situation, we now have relative peace in the area and they’ve also seen the conduct and turn out of the plebiscite (last January). There was overwhelming support from the people,” he said.

Murad also cited the decommissioning of an estimated 40,000 former Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) combatants, the military wing of the MILF, which he also chaired. The process will allow the smooth transition of BIAF members to civilian life.

It is very important for investors to come, in order to create job opportunities and also for the international community to see that something is happening on the ground.

Murad Ibrahim, BARMM interim chief minister

“All of this sends the signal that the situation here is improving,” he stressed, adding that a recent meeting with an official from a Saudi delegation to the region had given him great encouragement.

“He gave his commitment that he will help convince the business community in Saudi Arabia to try to invest in the BARRM. He even asked for our development plan so he can present it to them,” Murad said.

“I could see they are really interested, especially given Saudi shortages of animal feeds. They need suppliers and they’re looking at us as a possible source. We have the potential to produce halal food, too so we can supply halal products as well.”

Last month, Murad led officials at a meeting with Malaysian representatives to discuss the possibility of strengthening development ventures between Malaysia and the BARMM.

Lawyer Wencelito Andanar, Malacañang’s special envoy to Malaysia, accompanied the Malaysian delegation comprising the Malaysian Embassy’s Charge D’Affaires Rizany Irwan Muhammad and Assistant Trade Councilor Irvin Francis, as well as officials of the Malaysian Chamber of Commerce and Industry headed by its president, Edward Ling in the two-day visit to Cotabato City.

Murad cited the importance of the meeting, which he said could “elevate the strategic partnership between BARMM and Malaysia from being peace partners to being development partners.”

He told reporters: “Helping BARMM as a brother and a relative is part of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad’s ‘prosper-the-neighbors’ policy.”

Aside from Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, the government of Turkey has also vowed to extend assistance to the BARMM, particularly in its agricultural sector.


New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

Updated 24 September 2020

New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

  • Thousands of small NGOs that are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally may be forced to shut down
  • Many small NGOs questioned the timing of the new legislation, as they have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people during the COVID-19 pandemic

NEW DELHI: A new law passed by India’s parliament on Wednesday imposes restrictions that will force thousands of NGOs to shut down, dealing a major blow to the country’s civil society, activists say.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) 2020, which regulates the use of foreign funds by individuals and organizations, is “for national and internal security” and to “ensure that foreign funds do not dominate the political and social discourse in India,” Nityanand Rai, junior home minister, told the upper house as it passed the regulation on Wednesday.

But Indian NGOs fear that the law will mean they are no longer able to operate.

“Thousands of small NGOs, which enable good work and are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally, will shut down — also endangering the livelihoods of those dependent on them for a vocation,” Poonam Muttreja, director of the Delhi-based Population Foundation of India, told Arab News.

As the new law does not allow NGOs to share funds with any partner, individual or organization, small groups — particularly those active at the grassroots level — may end up being unable to receive the donations on which they depend for survival, Muttreja warned.

“Donors can’t give small grants to local NGOs, so they give large grants to an intermediary organization with the desire to work with grassroot-level NGOs, (of which there are many) in India,” Muttrejia said.

On Thursday, Voluntary Action Network India (VANI) — an umbrella organization for Indian NGOs — held a press conference during which members questioned the timing of the new legislation, since many small NGOs have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the worst possible time to hamper civil society,” the director of Ashoka University’s Center for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ingrid Srinath, said during the conference. “Just when this country needs its entire civil society to work together with the private sector and the government to address the multiple problems that confront us — not only the health ones but the larger issues of where the economy is going and the many polarizations taking place on the ground.”

Srinath also pointed out that no wider consultation with NGOs had taken place before the law was passed.

According to Delhi-based civil society activist Richa Singh, the law is an attempt by the government to silence dissent in the country.

“The larger purpose is to further silence those civil societies that are critical of (the government). It is a political message to fall in line,” she told Arab News. “While foreign money in the form of investment is being welcomed and labor laws are weakened for it, aid money is selectively targeted.”

Amitabh Behar, the chief executive of Oxfam India, called it a “devastating blow” and also criticized the government’s double standards over the acceptance of foreign funds.

“Red carpet welcome for foreign investments for businesses but stifling and squeezing the nonprofit sector by creating new hurdles for foreign aid which could help lift people out of poverty, ill health and illiteracy,” he said in a Twitter post on Sunday, when the FCRA bill was introduced to the lower house.