VAST agricultural lands, teeming with agricultural resources, a huge potential for industrial development and presence of power generation – these are some of the stated special features of Mindanao to catapult this country’s 2nd biggest island as a front-liner to the Asian Economic Community by 2015. Well, that may appear to be so but a cursory analysis of this beautiful but broken island of Mindanao may show otherwise.

Yes, we have vast agricultural resources but according to the Study of the Development Academy of the Philippines, 70 percent of these lands are under the control of big corporations while our farmers are tilling the marginalized and hilly areas.

In Northern Mindanao alone, we have some 48,000 hectares of vast plantations owned by these trans-national corporations whose productivity lies on the heavy use of chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides and herbicides in all phases of production that when computed will horribly show that as if we are dumping 1,000 dump-trucks of chemicals everyday in the bays and water-tables.

In the air and water examination done in Davao alone, it was discovered that out of the eight chemicals used by these plantations, seven are banned internationally. Why are these being allowed in the Philippines? Somehow, it smacks of racial prejudice. You mean what is bad for the Japanese, Americans or Europeans are good for us? What are we, guinea pigs?

How can we compete agriculturally when we are producing rice at the tune of P17 per kilo because we have tied-up our farmers to conventional agriculture while other Asian countries are producing rice at only P8 per kilo because they have long shifted to sustainable agriculture following natural and organic farming practices? Yes, in this country, everyone has profited from farming – the seed and fertilizer dealers, the compradors, the usurers, but not those who are doing the back-breaking job of farming – the poor farmers.

Our neighboring Asian countries have long prepared themselves for the economic integration where there will be free flowing of products, services, capital, investment and skilled labor. I heard that when the 10-member ASEAN countries signed AFTA in 1997 in Cebu where there will be no tariff anymore by 2015, these countries have debunked conventional agriculture. Even the King of Thailand had to rolled-up his sleeves, teaching the Thai farmers how to manufacture and use organic fertilizers, telling them not to use tractors if possible but working animals like carabaos because the petroleum-run farm machineries will contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer while carabaos’ waste will fertilize the soil. To really prepare, these neighboring countries have adopted value or supply chain approach so that they will not just sell raw products but only when these were processed and packaged by them to be ready for international market.

That’s how ready they are for AEC 2015 while the Philippines has somehow prepared by establishing Malapaya for energy and NABCOR for the value and supply chain approach. But the funds are nowhere to be found, which is now the subject of intensive investigation.

Yes, Mindanao is oozing with natural resources. But who decides, who controls, who profits? In 2012 alone, 70 percent of the GDP has been pocketed by only 50 families. We have to understand that based on the studies of development experts, the poor in Mindanao are the poorest through-out the nation and its six regions are suffering from high poverty gap ratios compared to the rest of the country. That poverty is not rooted in the lack of resources but in the powerlessness of the people to have access and control over these resources and utilities. Even the ownership of so-called Electric Cooperatives has all these years been denied the poor member-consumers, despite their capital contributions in terms of payment of amortization of loans and fees on reinvestment.

Yes, Mindanao has untapped resources but for whom? Yes, we have untapped energy source such hydro, solar and other renewable energies yet the establishment of coal-fired power plants has been rammed down the throats of the people in Mindanao. While these coal-fired power plants are already banned in the United States, India, Canada and in other countries because tens of thousands of deaths yearly can be attributed to the toxic elements emitted by these coal-fired power plants not to mention the destruction of the environment due to acid rain, the power-that-be are committing political suicides by shamelessly putting these in Mindanao.

How can we prepare for AEC 2015 when we are fully adhering to a flawed development paradigm based on the neo-liberal capitalism where only a few elite control the economy while the vast of the people are sharing a shrinking pie?

To be ready, put power where it rightfully belongs, that is, with the people and to remain there. You put power in the hands of a few elite who begets political power, then, they will blame the rotten system for pocketing billions of pesos through PDAF.