COTABATO CITY, August 19, 2003 (STAR)  By John Unson  - The Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao enacted into law yesterday the creation of the Regional Economic Zone Authority (REZA), an entity designed to hasten the ARMM’s cash-strapped economy to complement the Southern Mindanao process.

The RLA’s Speaker, Ismael Abubakar Jr., said the REZA law, earlier certified as an urgent bill by ARMM Gov. Parouk Hussin, is a mechanism that would provide foreign traders with investment incentives, tax holidays and tariff privileges if they venture into viable business projects in the region.

The REZA law, proposed by Regional Trade Secretary Ishak Mastura, will also establish in Maguindanao’s Polloc Port a venue where investors can put up their projects and show windows for the industries they may put up in the region.

"Goods, raw materials and other products from abroad that will be brought in through the REZA are guaranteed tax holidays. This is to convince investors that it would indeed be profitable to invest in the ARMM," Mastura told The Star.

Abubakar said the REZA is the 4th RLA’s "landmark legislation," passed to complement President Arroyo’s effort in fostering normalcy in areas devastated by recent hostilities between government forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels.

"If we can generate employment for our people, many of them would eventually do away with their firearms and realize that rebellion is no longer a viable means of achieving either a socio-economic or political objective," Abubakar said.

The ARMM groups — Marawi City, the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan which are all covered by the Sept. 2, 1996 peace pact between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front. The provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur are also known bastions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has on-going peace talks with the Arroyo administration.

Abubakar, who hails from Tawi-Tawi and is himself a businessman, said the RLA’s creation of REZA is timely for the Sept. 1-2 ARMM business congress in Marawi City, to be attended by some 300 traders from all over the region, from Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

"Participants to the two-day regional business congress would be given first-hand info on the mechanics of the REZA and the benefits of pouring in capital to the region through this entity, which will protect their welfare and investments," Abubakar said.

Mastura said the REZA will function as counterpart of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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