REFORMS AND development programs are under way in Mindanao, a Cabinet official said, even as businesses were invited to invest in the island’s agriculture sector.
In a briefing with media, Secretary Luwalhati R. Antonino, chairperson of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), said she is optimistic about government projects and programs for Mindanao, most notably the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“The President is serious about reforming ARMM,” Ms. Antonino said, adding that the release of additional budget for the region was “unexpected but welcome.” On top of the P11.8 billion appropriated for ARMM in 2011, the region also received P8.5 billion last year from the government’s disbursement acceleration fund.
“We are implementing projects and programs in the community level since we hope to transform them one by one in terms of access to health services, water, education and livelihood,” Ms. Antonino said. She added that many local leaders have linked with MinDA and national agencies, with particular mention on former rebels.
“In fact, some of the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) advocates are now peace advocates and partners for recovery programs,” Ms. Antonino said. The economic potential of provinces in Mindanao, however, remains largely untapped, Ms. Antonino said, citing vast agricultural land and high crop yield as main attractions for food production businesses.
“Mindanao still has 63% irrigable land but we need investors,” Ms. Antonino said, adding that the area is ideal for plantations such as rubber and palm oil.
Many of the island’s provinces belong to the top agricultural exporters, indicating high farm output, Ms. Antonino said. The National Statistical Coordination Board said that Mindanao contributes an average of 20% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Ms. Antonino said MinDA and local government units are ready to provide assistance in identifying viable investment areas.
Although agriculture is the advantage of Mindanao, Ms. Antonino said investments are also encouraged for other areas such as tourism, power generation and mining.
“There are many beautiful tourist destinations in Mindanao and only those also from the region get to see it,” Ms. Antonino said. “That’s why we need help in changing the image of Mindanao.”
As for mining, which continues to draw flak especially after the floods from tropical storm Sendong (international name: Washi) that swept through Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan City and nearby provinces in December, Ms. Antonino said:
“There is a law on mining; [that means] mining is allowed on certain conditions.” She added that local governments and national agencies must prepare mechanisms to mitigate the environmental impact of mining activities. “You have to balance economic, trading, environmental and legal aspects,” Ms. Antonino added.