The other face of Mindanao
By Gina Mission

Delgado, Floirendo, Dureza, Subijano and Escubillo: Mindanao is booming.

war zone. This is how Mindanao has been portrayed. For the uninitiated, it is easier to visualize an island at war than go to the place and see for one’s self the validity of such a description.

___Since the so-called "war in Mindanao" started, the island has caught the media’s attention. It has consistently been in the headlines. Banner reports range from kidnapping incidents, robbery, hostage taking, military ambushes, shootouts, "war," to the more sober "failed ceasefire" and peace talks. Headline photos also show the fatalities of "war", military and insurgents in full battle gear and in combat position, and women and children taking up arms.

___Such media coverage gives the impression that there is a full-blown "war" going on in Mindanao. Marcelo Monteron, a carpenter in Kalookan City, admitted to CyberDyaryo that he turned down a construction job in Mindanao because, "I don’t want to gamble my life in ‘war-torn’ Mindanao."

___"This is unfair because the peace and order problem in Mindanao only happens in three places in Sulu," said Jess Dureza, former Davao solon and later President Ramos’ representative in Mindanao, during a forum at Ciudad Fernandina organized by Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM). GEM is an NGO working towards accelerated economic growth in Mindanao, and ensuring that the benefits of growth are widely distributed among the people of Mindanao.

___According to GEM, a lot of development activities are happening in Mindanao, yet it is only the insurgency problem that gets reported. It is for this reason that the organization decided to bring business people from Mindanao to Manila to speak on their respective experiences in the area. "By holding this kind of activity, we hope that people get an accurate view of the place," said Penny Poole, GEM Comunication Program Advisor, adding that the forum was just the first among a series of fora the organization intends to host.

___Mindanao, the country’s second largest island located in the southern part of the Philippines, is home to some 16 million people. It contributes 34 per cent of the country’s total agricultural production; 44 per cent of domestic food trade; and 13 per cent of its total manufacturing output.

___Data released by GEM show that Mindanao is booming. For instance, from 1992 to 1996, the number of telephone lines increased by 60 per cent per year. The gross regional domestic product (GRDP) bounced from a negative in 1992 to 4.07 per cent growth in 1996. Investments posted a 43 per cent growth in 1996. Energy consumption increases 13 per cent per year, and construction, by 28 per cent per year. As GEM reported, there are a lot of investment potential and opportunities in the area.

___But these data are unknown to most people. And representatives from the island’s banking, finance, tourism, and property sectors of the place, are out to refute the distorted notion that people have about the place, and show the "other side of Mindanao."

___Cynthia Subijano, executive vice president of Pryce Properties Corporation (PPC) said that her company succeeded in its various ventures in the place because her boss, first and foremost, believes in Mindanao. PPC, according to Subijano, grew ten times since its operation in the area. "This just shows the potential of the area, and that there are indeed economic opportunities in Mindanao," she said at the forum.

___But Subijano also revealed: "During my first few visits in Mindanao, I wouldn’t even step out of the airport until I saw my escort. But not anymore. Now I feel safer walking the streets of Cagayan de Oro than Makati where my residence is located."

___Vangie Escubillo of Anchor Savings Bank (ASB) said that ASB is doing well in General Santos City. She added that the bank is even planning to expand in other places in Mindanao. Like Subijano, she had misconceptions about Mindanao at the outset but quickly changed her view as soon as she saw the place.

___Speaking for the business sector, Guido Alfredo Delgado said: "The current business situation in Mindanao is not affected, in any way, by the peace and order problem in some areas. First, because most business establishments are in the cities of Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Butuan, and General Santos – which are hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away from places where this so-called ‘war’ happens." If there is a business downtrend, Delgado added, it is not because of the peace and order situation in Mindanao but because of the financial crisis which is happening not just in the area but throughout the country and the Asian region.

___Escubillo agreed with Delgado, adding, "There’s never been a business establishment that left Mindanao because of the peace and order situation." However,Escubillo said that there are business venture plans that have been put on hold because some investors have gotten scared of media reports on Mindanao.

___As Dureza quipped, "It is not true that there is war in Mindanao. The insurgency problem in Sulu is very contained. Just go around Davao, or Cagayan de Oro, or even Iligan, which is closer to the Muslim areas, and you’ll find out how normal life is in the place."

___Former Davao City tourism head Margie Moran said that the problem in Mindanao is mostly economic and political, and not religious as some people want to think. "If government will focus on developing Mindanao, provide resources to the economically-depressed places, I guess peace and order will prevail," she said.

___Media’s portrayal of Mindanao, Moran said, "has prevented developers and investors to step forward. They get scared by what they read in the papers."

___Dureza appealed to media practitioners to dateline their stories in the place where the events actually took place. "If you are reporting an incident in a barrio in Maguindanao, please dateline it as such, and not Davao City or Iligan City or Cotabato City," he said. "By inaccurate datelining, people think that it is the whole of Mindanao that experiences such insurgencies."

___Asked how much profit they would project if the peace and order situation in Mindanao improves, Delgado said that the more relevant issue would be "how much more profit we will make if the government provides the needed infrastructure to open Mindanao to the world." But he later said, "We don’t want to belabor this age-old issue of Mindanao not getting enough support from the government vis--vis its economic contribution to the country. There is always an investment aimed beyond the political issue. People invest in Mindanao not exclusively for monetary considerations."

___People invest in Mindanao, he added, because they believe in it and its promise.

___With or without government support, Delgado said, "We will work on our own and prove that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Mindanao."

CyberDyaryo | 1999.02.04