Thursday, 24 February 2000

Giving Mindanao its due
By Gina Mission

For an island group with so much potential, where is Mindanao heading?

This is the question all four speakers at a breakfast forum Wednesday in Ciudad Fernandina tried to address. Mindanao, they agreed, has everything it takes to rise above the poverty that seems to have stuck like a synonym to most of its areas, and be highly developed. And yet, how has Mindanao really been doing all these years?

...Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Ernesto Ordoņez said, "Mindanao right now is following the trend of the country--which is that, while there is growth, it is not as spectacular as in our neighboring countries."

...This is so because, he said, "growth" in Mindanao is concentrated only in a few areas, while the rest suffer the brunt of peace and order problems.

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Dr. Fermin Adriano: A lot of things need fixing.

...Fermin Adriano, associate professor at University of the Philippines in Los Baņos, and agriculture specialist for Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM), put it differently. Mindanao, he said, follows the policy dynamics of the national government. Therefore, anything that is not officially sanctioned by the national government, hardly holds water, if at all, for the island, no matter how noble the visions of its people may be. And right now, he added, there are a lot of things that needed to be fixed in the place if it wants to get to where it should be going.

..."One basic tenet of growth and development is that you use your comparative advantage," he explained. "Use your best card to make things work for you.''

...In concrete terms, this means that Mindanao, being agriculturally rich, should use its potential to develop itself. Adriano pointed out that even as the country has suffered from the financial crisis that hit most Asian countries, Mindanao’s economy has proved to be resilient. "This is because it is generally based on agriculture. People, even amidst crisis, have to eat.'' And agriculture enabled the island to weather the crisis.

...Mindanao, the country’s second-largest island located in the southern part of the Philippines, is home to some 18 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.

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Dr. Rolando Dy:
"A major role to play in food security."

...In a paper titled ''Food Security and the Role of Mindanao: A Private Sector View,'' Rolando Dy, executive director of the Center for Food and Agribusiness of the University of Asia and the Pacific, wrote that Mindanao has "a major role to play in food security."

...As early as 1998, President Estrada has made pronouncements about making the island the country’s food basket, a move described by Dy as "sound" and "strategic". "Mindanao has the agro-climatic environment for rice and corn production," he explained. " It is typhoon-free and could be competitive."

...By Dy's calculation, Mindanao currently supplies about one-fourth of the country’s rice and about two-thirds of its corn requirements. Many irrigated areas attain a rice yield of five tons per hectare.

...Unfortunately, its rich agricultural potential alone has not made Mindanao the country’s food basket. Government, Dy said, must undertake affirmative action programs to redress the backlog in rural infrastructure, specifically irrigation, roads, and electrification.

..."The major area for irrigation development is the Cotabato area," Dy said. "But if we develop 500,000 hectares of the total irrigable areas in Mindanao, and assuming a cropping intensity of 150 per cent, and an average yield of four tons per hectare, this would-be food basket could produce three million tons of palay, which is more than the two million tons the National Food Authority imported in 1998.''

...The paving of the road system in Mindanao, Dy said, lags behind most other regions of the country. As Adriano later commented: "How can you expect rapid development when outside the growth areas of the island, locals still walk on very rough roads every day?"

...Dy also lamented that Mindanao trails the other regions in access to electric power supply. In 1997, he said, the barangay electrification coverage was 79.4 per cent in Luzon, 66.4 per cent in the Visayas, and 53 per cent in Mindanao.

...Adriano cited an "improved transport system," in addition to a "more peaceful Mindanao," as another factor to consider in developing the place.

..."Look at Cotabato. It has an excellent road system. But there are not enough transport operators because of the risk involved in traveling around the province, or from Cotabato to another province," he said.


Usec. Ernesto Ordonez:
Peace and order problem affects would-be investors.

...Kidnappings of civilians, as well as armed encounters between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the military continue to mar the peace and order situation in Cotabato and Lanao del Sur. The MILF has its headquarters in Cotabato City: Camp Abubakre occupies four municipalities in Cotabato and Lanao del Sur, and most of the towns in the two provinces are considered "MILF-controlled areas."

...For this reason, no bus lines ply the excellent highways of Cotabato. Asian utility vehicles (AUVs), usually the Toyota Tamaraw FX and Mitsubishi Adventure, are used instead to get to Lanao del Sur and other neighboring provinces from Cotabato. Those who can afford it rent a van, at a price beyond the reach of most people, to go from one place to another.

...Ordoņez admitted that the peace and order problem in Mindanao is "affecting would-be investors."

Rep. Daisy Fuentes...Congresswoman Daisy Fuentes, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives for Mindanao, added yet another important consideration for Mindanao's development: Enough of a budget for the island. At the moment, Mindanao gets 21 per cent of the total national budget. Considering its enormous contribution to the Philippine economy, Fuentes said it should be getting a 34 per cent share.

...Still, despite the unfulfilled official promises and other forms of government neglect, 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 figure in 1992 to 4.07 per cent growth in 1996, and still growing. Investments posted a 43 per cent growth in 1996, and still gowing. Energy consumption increases 13 per cent per year, and construction, by 28 per cent per year. And there are a lot of investment potentials in the area, GEM reported.

...Given such statistics, Fuentes could only ask: "How much more development would Mindanao achieve if it were given it’s due?"

...But like most people, she knows that, for Mindanao to get the budget and government support that it rightfully deserves, those in power must "rise beyond parochial interests."

...And it may take a while before that finally happens.


-Photos by Gina Mission

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