IT IS no news that Mindanao is an island rich in resources. This is a claim echoed by time in the past decades, reverberating throughout the country as the island becomes more entangled in issues about peace and conflict.
Mindanao is a paradox, a subject capable of generating debates and scholarly discussions on its potential and curse. As one article aptly said, “This region is arguably the poorest in the entire country. However, it is also commonly said that Mindanao alone is capable of feeding the entire Philippines.”
Three years ago, at the onset of P-Noy’s rule, hopes are bleak for a change of tune. But now, 2013, a beautiful music is slowly entering the scene.
First, one may ask, why the Mindanao conflict? What does Mindanao have that people are fighting over it? Is it really true that Mindanao is a beggar sitting atop a mound of gold? One, then, should examine Mindanao’s prospective qualities like superior agro-climatic conditions, abundant primary resources, large tracts of idle lands, and wage rates lower than elsewhere in the country, according to Ateneo de Manila University economics professor Dr. Cielito Habito. And by abundant resources, an article once pointed out that Mindanao produces around 40 percent of Philippines’ agricultural, fishery and forestry output.
Feeding the entire Philippines, then, is quite true.
According to the president’s speech last August 8 during the 22nd Mindanao Business Conference, the government was able to identify at least three main problems of Mindanao that needed solutions: peace, power and infrastructure.
Three years ago, Mindanao’s vast potentials seemed like a myth – an elusive truth that has escaped Filipinos in the last decades. Greed, corruption, the good old-fashioned evil ways of the immoral leaders who, instead of helping fulfill the island’s promise, have become its own curse. And thus, development was slowed down.
But lately, growth finally found its way to Mindanao. Or at least, this is what a lot of people are saying these days. Down south, things are finally looking up.
Three years ago, or even way before President Aquino’s regime, peace is something only a Mindanaoan can find in a dream, if, and only if, one can sleep running away from bombs and gunshots. The current government believed that ‘any real progress must be built on the bedrock of peace’, and thus, peace and security was addressed first.
The armed struggle for a Mindanao to break away from the Philippines and to govern on its own has been a bitter strife that sprouted out back in the 1960s. The war cry for a new Mindanao resonated through the decades and claimed countless lives. Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization (BMLO), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf appeared and resounded the cry. Mindanao was in a very sad mess.
Adding to that were private armies hired by political dynasties and the horrifying Maguindanao Massacre. Peace was stymied over and over again. Now, the government was able to forge a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the MILF. The government, despite the hurdles that are surely coming, is hopeful of good news from this. In the speech, the president even gave a stern warning to those people who are aiming to derail the ongoing peace process.
The second hindrance being addressed by the government is Mindanao’s power problem. Three years ago, the power sector’s death was looming, as evidenced by rotational blackouts in the past years and months just to stretch out what remained of Mindanao’s electric power. Mindanao was looking at a dark future, literally.
President Aquino said that, for this reason, he will quickly act once he wins the top seat, since building a coal power plant will take three years, not factoring in that amount of time the tiresome talks the project must go through in order to be approved of. Stepping into his office, PNoy immediately worked changes in order to attract investors for Mindanao’s power sector.
By 2015, the government sees an end of the region’s power deficit – plus a surplus. Solving peace and power is necessary for development to slowly find Mindanao. That’s the reason why, in the past years and months, some progress is observable in many Mindanao cities.
Third point of comparison, and a problem being addressed, is infrastructure. Three years ago, rural Mindanao remains underdeveloped because of corruption. Today, corruption may not yet have been totally eradicated, but roads and bridges are finally being constructed in many remote areas in the island. Literally, the government is building roads and bridges for development to finally discover these areas.
For 2011 to 2014, the government through the Department of Public Works and Highways, had allotted 61.54 billion pesos for the construction of roads, bridges and other infrastructures in Mindanao. Three years ago, even with a budget much lesser than this, building roads and bridges rarely happen. And if it does, small projects will take many months, if not years, to be completed. Now, the Philippine government is finally making things happen for Mindanao.
Major road works have been started, such as the 767-million-peso Lake Lanao Circumferential Project expected to be completed by February 2015. Fifteen airports and 46 ports are being renovated and constructed. The President even said that he is pushing for an additional 34.29 billion pesos for more projects in Mindanao.
The construction of infrastructure will also have a considerable impact to the tourism industry of the island. Having been blessed by natural wonders, Mindanao’s beautiful tourism spots will become more accessible.
Three years ago, Mindanao was in a miserable mess, especially after the Maguindanao Massacre pushed Mindanao in a bad light. Today, the Land of Promise is slowly waking up, and realizing its potential. Three years ago, who would know that Mindanao will reach the kind of heights that seemed so impossible back then? It is slowly happening. The Mindanao paradox will soon become a truth embraced not just by Filipinos, but by the whole world who once distrusted it.
*Sunday Essays are articles written by students of Ateneo de Davao University for their Advanced Journalism subject.