MANILA -- The Senate and House of Representatives approved Tuesday in a bicameral meeting the Mindanao Development Authority (Minda) Bill.

The approval gives substance to a call for the creation of a permanent Mindanao development agency, which has first been raised half a century ago.

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Both Houses harmonized two versions of the bill, which are Senate Bill (SB) 3496 or Meda Bill and the House Bill (HB) 6958. SB 3496 was approved by the Senate last December 15, 2009, while the HB 6958 was approved by Congress on November 16, 2009.

"An effective institutional mechanism shall be established to address the need for a coordinative and integrative approach for the formulation and implementation of various inter-regional and/or Mindanao-wide development plans, programs and projects," stated the declaration of policy in describing Minda.

The Minda Bill institutionalizes the existence of the Mindanao Economic Development Council (Medco), and thus bodes well for the track record of proactive moves by Medco.

The bicameral meeting was chaired by Senator Edgardo Angara and Representative Felix Alfelor of Bicol, chair of the House Committee on Government enterprises.

The meeting was also attended by conferees Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, Representative Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, Representative Pedro Romualdo of Camiguin, and Representative Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao.

The Minda, as adopted by both Houses, will focus on the economic development of Mindanao, as well as on the social, political and cultural aspects of development in the island.

The Minda shall also act as implementing agency for Mindanao-specific interregional and Mindanao-wide programs and projects. The authority shall cover all provinces and cities in Western Mindanao, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao, Central Mindanao, Caraga and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).

The Minda shall also serve to promote the active participation of Mindanao and Palawan in the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-Eaga).

Likewise, the Minda shall also establish a stronger BIMP-Eaga Advisory Board with the inclusion of Senate and House representative. The advisory board shall recommend policies and programs to ensure the widest participation of Mindanao and Palawan in BIMP-Eaga.

The Minda Bill has been pushed in view of the need for Mindanao to catch up with mainstream national development.

In a previous statement, Senator Angara said that Filipino leaders have seen the potentials of Mindanao a long time ago, saying that "despite efforts to develop the island-region, it has never been done on a continuing and sustained basis."

Likewise, Rodriguez said in a previous statement that the time for lip service for Mindanao should end and the time for affirmative action for Mindanao has to begin.

Undersecretary Virgilio Leyretana, chair of the Mindanao Economic Development Council (Medco), lauded the approval of the bill as it only validates both Houses' commitment to develop Mindanao and accelerate the region's inclusion in the mainstream of national body politic.

"The enactment of the bill is seen to enhance the potential role of Mindanao as the bridge to all cultures in this country and in BIMP-Eaga, as well as the linchpin of our country's security and national interest," Leyretana said.

Mindanao stakeholders have long been rallying a strong call for a permanent mechanism that would ensure a strong voice for Mindanao in the national agenda.

Previous advocacies for the creation of the first Mindanao Development Authority (MDA) dates back to 1960.