First of many: The ASEAN RoRo launch
In grade school, we learned that the three most prominent ethnic groups that dwelled in Pre-Hispanic Philippines were the Negritos, the Indons, and the Malays. The Indons were the ones who came in from the south from the islands we would later know of as Indonesia. Through the centuries, the exchange of goods and people by sea have continued, notwithstanding the advent of air travel. Use of the traditional routes, however, have kept maritime transport at an average of two weeks.
Not anymore. Recently, Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo were in Davao City to launch the new Asean RoRo (short for Roll-On/Roll-Off) Shipping Service between Davao City, General Santos City and Bitung City on the northern coast of Sulawesi in Indonesia. The new route is expected to cut travel time from two weeks to just two to three days, depending on weather conditions.
This will, undoubtedly, boost trade between the two neighboring countries, particularly of agricultural products and implements.
The M/V Super Shuttle Ro-Ro vessel, operated by the Asian Marine Transport System and with a capacity of 500 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit containers), was the first vessel to set sail at the launch and will be running the route on a weekly basis.
It needs to be mentioned that the new shipping route is part of the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), a sub-regional economic cooperation initiative launched in 1994, also in Davao City, when Fidel V. Ramos was President, and Rodrigo Roa Duterte was Davao City Mayor. This RoRo launch, thus, in some ways, was a “coming to full circle”, so to speak, of our current President.
As what President Duterte had said in his speech at the launch ceremonies, “This route shall be the first of many routes to be formed for the international RoRo network envisioned by our Asean leaders to provide more accessibility and opportunities for our countries. Let this event serve as a reminder that our relationship is not just between trade partners, but between friends that are tied together by a bond that transcends borders.”
Indeed, this launch is a major accomplishment of the Philippine government as chairman for Asean this year. I am optimistic that the current administration, with President Duterte at the helm and with Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, Transport Secretary Art Tugade and Trade Secretary Mon Lopez at his side, pushing forward the “Build, build, build” thrust of its Dutertenomics, would surely bridge the seas, not just between the Philippines and its Asean brethren, but also the waters between our 7,107 islands.