Fulfilling the promise of growth in Mindanao

the promise of growth in Mindanao

By Tina Arceo-Dumlao

Daily Inquirer

Posted date: January 24, 2010

MANILA, Philippines–Despite the perennial peace and order
problems hounding Mindanao, the second largest island group in the
Philippines has remained a vital force in the country’s economic

The region accounts for a fourth of the country’s
population and a fifth of the country’s total domestic output, largely
due to Mindanao’s agriculture, fishery and forestry sector, which is
responsible for 35 percent of the country’s total output from this

But experts believe that the island is just scratching the
surface and has the potential to produce so much more, considering that
it is blessed with fertile soil and is spared from typhoons that plague
the rest of the country.

Its full economic potential is expected
to be unleashed with the much-anticipated passage of the bill seeking to
create the Mindanao Development Authority.

The bill was approved
last week by the bicameral committee of Congress, raising hopes that the
bill will be enacted before Congress adjourns in February.

Undersecretary Virgilio Leyretana, who also chairs the Mindanao Economic
Development Council (Medco), the body that will be replaced by MinDA,
tells the Inquirer in an interview the reasons why the MinDA law should
be passed and how important it is for Mindanao to live up to its full

Question: What will the Mindanao Development Authority
do once it is established?

Leyretana: The proposed Mindanao
Development Authority will provide the strategic direction for Mindanao.
It will, among others, formulate an integrated development framework
for Mindanao; prioritize, integrate, and implement inter-regional and/or
Mindanao-wide development programs and projects; and act as the
Philippine Coordinating Office for the
Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area.

chair of the Authority will also sit as an ex-officio member of the
board of the National Economic and Development Authority, thus giving
Mindanao a stronger representation in the national planning process.

What are the primary reasons why it should be passed?

Mindanao has to catch up with mainstream national development, having
been a victim of development disparity and economic inequity. The island
also needs an agency that integrates a Mindanao-wide agenda and
effectively articulates these agenda to national government priorities.

is also a dire need for an agency that looks beyond regional concerns,
integrates and harmonizes peace and development efforts at a
Mindanao-wide perspective and that will be above and beyond cultural,
political and tribal denominations.

To do all these would require a
permanent island-wide mechanism with security of personnel tenure,
clothed with sufficient authority to carry out such mandate of
integrating and accelerating peace and development in Mindanao.

What do you think are the main industries in Mindanao with the best
prospects of growth?

Leyretana: Based on our studies, Mindanao has
a wide spectrum of investment opportunities. In particular, there are
limitless potentials in the following industries:

1. Banana—Banana
is a consistent top dollar earner and consistently in the top 10 export
commodities from Mindanao.

2. Rubber—All of the Philippines’
rubber production comes from Mindanao

3. Oil palm—Oil palm
plantations are found mainly in Mindanao. Palm oil is reusable and
cheaper than coconut oil.

4. Poultry—This is in relation to the
growing halal food industry and growing market for halal poultry
products in the Middle East.

5. ICT/Business Process
Outsourcing—The ICT is a sunshine industry given the competitive
advantage of the labor force in the island.

6. Real estate—Real
estate has been bullish in urban growth centers due to OFW remittances
and the construction of large-scale malls.

7. Mining—Mindanao is
rich in mineral resources

8. Fishing—There are many fishing fleets
in Gen. Santos and Zamboanga Cities. Canning and sardine factories are
also found in the region.

Q: How important is Mindanao to the
Philippine economy?

Answer: Mindanao is an island in Southern
Philippines with vast natural resources and skilled labor force. It is
richest in terms of biodiversity and is now emerging as a destination
for tourists and investors due largely to its physical attributes and to
the growing competitiveness of its important sectors such as
agriculture and services. With its strategic geographic location, as a
crossroad between the East and West, Mindanao has become the vanguard of
the international sea route of trade and commerce which passes through
Tawi-tawi and the Celebes Sea, as well as of the oil supply which goes
through the Sibutu Sea via Malacca Strait to Asia.

Since it is
situated between the East and the West, and it is strategically
proximate to key markets such as Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-the
Philippines – East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), Singapore, India and
China, Mindanao is the window to the Pacific and the Gateway to Asia and
the world.

And since Mindanao is basically an agriculture island,
close to a third of its land area is devoted to agriculture. Mindanao
accounts for over 34 percent of the Philippines’ food requirements and
contributes more than 40 percent percent to the national food trade.
Mindanao’s evenly distributed tropical climate makes it ideal for
year-round crop production. If wisely harnessed, Mindanao’s rich
agricultural resources can serve as the Philippines’ foundation for
sustainable growth.

In terms of crop production, Mindanao is the
lead producer of major crops in the country such as rubber (100
percent), coffee (74.76 percent), banana (81.41 percent), corn (52.97
percent) and coconut (68.95 percent) to the country’s total production.
In the livestock industry, about a third of the country’s livestock
production (e.g. swine, goat, cattle, and carabao) comes from Mindanao.

also contributes more than 40 percent of national fish production.
Mindanao’s main fisheries products are tuna (General Santos City),
sardines (Zamboanga City) and seaweeds (ARMM and Region IX).

all of these attributes, Mindanao is the indispensable linchpin of our
national and regional security. Furthermore, given its rich natural
endowments, Mindanao becomes the fundamental factor of the Philippines’
development and future.

Q: Aside from peace and order concerns,
what are the main barriers to the growth of Mindanao?

Aside from
the unstable peace and order situation of Mindanao, Mindanao’s and
development is erratic and inconsistent due to political and social
instability brought about by armed rebels challenging government

Second, poverty, in its severest form, is found in the
island. Currently, six of 10 poorest provinces are in Mindanao.

also lags behind relative to other island groups in terms of human
development. Four provinces from Mindanao belong to the bottom five in
terms of human development.

Then there is the fact that there is
no island-wide mechanism clothed with the necessary authority or “teeth”
to oversee Mindanao’s development.

Every time a Mindanao
mechanism is created, it is either subsumed or worse, abolished when
there is change in national leadership. In the case of Medco, it was
created by mere Executive Order; so there is always a constant threat of
abolition given that it is only a locally-funded project under the
Office of the President. By and large, Medco is virtually an ad hoc
body, which is transitory.

Hence, the Authority that will be
created must enjoy a degree of independence and autonomy to remove
constraints from traditional approaches to development which are deemed
bureaucratic, ineffective and costly. The agency must also be free from
political intervention so as to not lose sight of its vision of a
Mindanao which is prosperous, integrated, socially and politically
stable, and economically dynamic.