President Aquino told Malaysian businessmen at the close of his recent Malaysian state visit that now is the time to invest in Mindanao.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement on the Bangsamoro will be signed this March, and with peace comes economic opportunities for all, the President said.
A couple of questions though.
One, can Mindanao meet the power supply that would be required by new investments?
We all know Mindanao just suffered an island-wide power outage and that, by the Energy department’s own admission, it will continue to experience two- to three-hour rotating blackouts in the summer months due to projected power supply deficiencies.
Indeed, Mindanao’s power troubles have been around the last five years and may be solved by 2015 yet.
New investments and businesses in Mindanao would certainly increase energy demand in the region, a demand that current power infrastructure is doubtful to meet, so a better energy strategy from the government is a must.
Constrained energy supplies are already negatively affecting businesses in the region even now. So when the President talks about new business opportunities in Mindanao he must also tell us or tell the investors what the government is doing for a better energy picture and future. Where is Mindanao now? And where is it headed?
Typical energy programs, including energy planning and decision-making, take a minimum of five years to implement.
The government has laid out new power generation projects from power plants that would meet electricity demand in Mindanao by 2015, or so it says. But can they deliver? And at what electricity prices? There will certainly be reduced profits for businesses if operating costs would be jacked up by high electricity prices.
Also, would the new energy supply be stable and sustainable? Disruptions in power would also hinder business competitiveness.
Recent history also demonstrates that catastrophic weather events, terrorism and criminality are realities in Mindanao.
Just look at the villages Typhoon Pablo devastated and you have a grim reminder of such catastrophes, both wrought by nature and by man. The President was aghast to find out 57 percent of the villages hit by Pablo still have no power more than a year after the storm and despite billions of pesos spent on rehabilitation. That’s nature and manmade both right there.
Also, the peace-making process, regardless of what the President says, is far from over.
Lasting peace and stability is quite elusive, particularly in Muslim Mindanao because of plain banditry and the many factions of rebel groups.
New peace treaties fuel sectarian tensions among those who felt excluded. For example, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are still fighting the government and other Moro rebel groups are not far from the conflict.
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels just recently sparked what the United Nations called a “humanitarian crisis” when they waged a rebellion in Zamboanga, the Philippines’ third largest city.
Southern Mindanao has been the home of separatist insurgencies for decades. Peace deals have been brokered and are still being brokered to this day, this time with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which split from the MNLF in 1978.
We support these peace initiatives. Who doesn’t want peace? But again the many Muslim rebel factions only obfuscate and complicate the peace situation.
The fact is, there are many troublemakers in the region. The Muslim community itself is made up of members of several tribes, which is why some factions feel no enthusiasm for government pacts or peace deals with other rebel factions.
Then there are the criminal gangs like the Abu Sayyaf which support themselves through extortion and kidnapping.
This is why alliances and peace deals are fragile at best.
The President is right in saying Mindanao has plentiful natural resources for investment but armed conflicts and unstable power provisions would continue to hamper long-term economic development.