MINDANAO's fishing industry has urged for the speedy approval of the Mindanao Economic Development Authority (Meda) Bill, which will become a permanent agency that will ensure the continuity of peace and development efforts in Mindanao.

The bill, which is due for a bicameral hearing this Tuesday (19 January), has been pushed in view of the need for Mindanao to catch up with the mainstream national development.

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"With the passage of the bill we can be assured that a permanent body for a holistic Mindanao will be put in place," said Marfin Tan, president of the Soccsksargen Federation of Fishing Associations and Allied Industries, an umbrella organization of all the tuna industries in the Soccksargen area.

Senate Bill 3496 or Meda bill was unanimously approved on third reading on December 14, 2009 and the Senators agreed to adopt House Bill 6958, the counterpart bill approved by Congress on November 16 last year, as the final version. General provisions of the bill seek to strengthen the existing Mindanao Economic Development Council (Medco) by converting it into a permanent agency.

"This kind of agency must be institutionalized for the lasting benefit of the tuna industry," Tan added, noting that Medco helped in advocating for a conducive policy and business environment for the industry and providing a strong link to the Office of the President.

He said that Medco also actively helped in actively linking Mindanao's tuna industry with counterparts in the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines-East Asean Growth Area (Bimp-Eaga) particularly in bilateral talks.

Soccsksargen's tuna industry, were six big tuna canneries are located particularly in General Santos, provide about 120,000 jobs and accounts for the majority of the tuna production in the country. One of the top exports of Mindanao, it contributes approximately 4 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product.

"Medco has always been there to assist the sardine industry in bringing its concerns to the immediate attention of the President, policy makers and line agencies," said Roberto Baylosis, executive vice president of the Southern Philippines Deep Sea Fishing Association, a large group of fishing operators in Western Mindanao engaged in sardine fishing and based in Zamboanga City.

"We express our unequivocal support to the Meda Bill which essentially seeks to institutionalize the present office into a permanent body that will oversee, facilitate and integrate the development of Mindanao," he said.

Baylosis said the agency has been helpful in the early resolution of the "sardine crises" in 2005 and 2008 which was triggered by the high prices of diesel fuel, as well as the acquisition of Agricultural Competitiveness

Enhancement Fund (Acef) loans to needing companies, among other policy issues.

"We need this valuable assistance to continue, thus, we need the Meda Bill to be enacted into law soonest possible," he said.

The sardine industry provides employment to approximately 30,000 families in Zamboanga City, which hosts 12 sardine canneries. The industry also includes industries like canning and processing, as well as the allied industries like fish dock handling, tin can factories, vessel drydocking and repairs, and dried fish business.

The passage of the bill at the House heralds a longed-for development after efforts in pushing for the creation of a permanent Mindanao development agency has been delayed for more than five decades. Previous advocacies for the creation of the first Mindanao Development Authority (MDA) dates back to 1960.

Senate Bill 3496 or Meda bill was unanimously approved on third reading last December 2009 and the Senators agreed to adopt House Bill 6958, the counterpart bill approved by Congress on November 2009, as the final version. (Medco)