By Maya M. Padillo, BusinessWorld Online Correspondent

DAVAO CITY – Policies that will guide the halal industry in the Philippines will have to be laid out to prepare Mindanao towards participating in the global halal market, which is estimated to have a consumer base of two billion Muslims and an estimated worth of $1.6 trillion by 2018.

At the opening of the 2015 Davao Agri Trade Expo (DATE) on Friday, Senator Cynthia A. Villar, chair of the committee on agriculture, said adopting measures that will make halal exports more competitive can make the Philippines an active player in the regional and global markets.

“We have an active Muslim Filipino populace. Moreover, Mindanao, which is home to about four million Muslims, is strategically located and can very well become the halal hub of the country,” Ms. Villar said in a speech delivered by her son Rep. Mark A. Villar.

Senate Bill 2831, the “Philippine Halal Export Development and Promotion Act of 2015”, is currently on third and final reading.

The bill aims to give the Philippines a “very good position to excel in the halal trade industry with the economic integration of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),” said the senator, committing that she will push for the proposed legislation to be passed and signed into law by President Benigno S. C. III Aquino before his term ends next year.

Ms. Villar added that ASEAN countries can work together to serve the requirements of the international halal market.

Meanwhile, the Mindanao Islamic Chamber of Commerce (MICC) is pitching to make Davao City, the largest in Mindanao, as the halal hub of the southern island.

“Halal is not only for food but all about the standards and processes of any products. Also the safety, hygiene, reliability, quality and assurance of the products,” said Marilou W. Ampuan of MICC.

A 5,000-square-meter halal slaughterhouse will be built in the southern part of Davao with opening targeted for next year.

However, the Department of Tourism (DoT) has expressed frustration over the lack of an organized halal certification system in the country, which hinders promotions for halal tourism.

In an earlier interview, Tourism Assistant Secretary Arturo P. Boncato, Jr. said the DoT could not declare restaurants as “Halal Certified” without a set of implementing rules and regulations (IRR) from the National Commission of Muslim Filipinos (NMCF).

The NCMF is a national agency mandated under Article 2, Section 8 of Republic Act 9997 to promote and develop the Philippine halal industry, accredit halal-certifying bodies, and link with individuals and institutions here and abroad.

“We have yet to hear exactly what the program is all about and how the program will move forward. There is a law but there is no IRR. Our (Muslim) travelers who come from the rest of the world, they become hungry in the Philippines,” Mr. Boncato said.

GAMEFOWL

At the 2015 DATE, the gamefowl sector was highlighted for the first time, alongside the focus industries of poultry, livestock, dairy, and aquaculture.

“(Gamefowl) is really a big industry… with the selling, produce, and the whole value chain like feeds, cages, medicines,” said Mary Antonette D. Doromal, executive director of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., which organizes the annual DATE.

Apart from discussions on related technology, best practices and sector development programs, financing for agricultural ventures was one of the main events of the expo.

The participating banks were government-owned Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines along with private financial institutions BDO Unibank, Inc., Bank of the Philippine Islands, and Security Bank Corp.