MINDANAO holds some of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines that I have visited including Siargao, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Jolo. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the island several times to meet with business leaders and key decision-makers on how to develop Mindanao towards inclusive growth.
Despite the opposing and often controversial views on martial law in Mindanao, I think it is a step in the right direction because we need a strong leadership to resolve the second longest conflict in the world. This will pave the way for the pursuit of progressive development for the people of Mindanao and achieve its 2030 vision:
”Mindanawons of all cultural or socio-economic backgrounds have attained a sustainably uplifted quality of life through their collective achievement of a peaceful, developed, autonomous and integrated Mindanao that is vanguard for the country’s sustainable development.”
Mindanao’s comparative advantages
Mindanao is almost three times the size of Taiwan, 88 times bigger than Hong Kong, and 136 times larger than Singapore. Its position also makes the region an important gateway to Brunei Darussalam, Indonaesia, and Malaysia—the East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA)—and to the rest of the Philippines.
The Muslim provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi have great potential being in the center of trade for East Asia. It would need more infrastructure development, especially in education, health and road infrastructure. By 2021, I imagine bridges and highways will be constructed to connect the five Muslim provinces with each other and to the rest of Mindanao.
Aside from its strategic location, Mindanao also has a lot to offer. It is the food basket of the Philippines, supplying around 40 percent of food to the entire nation. This includes corn, coconut, coffee, banana, pineapple, cacao, and aquaculture, among others.
Also blessed with rich biodiversity and scenic environment, Mindanao also has a potential for eco-tourism activities. The region’s tourism clusters feature unique attractions like Lake Sebu, Turtle Islands, Mount Apo, Enchanted River, Mount Hamiguitan, and Tinuy-an Falls, among many others. Mindanao is also culturally rich. It is home to some of our tribes like the Tausug, Maranao, Manobo, and Yakan, among others. Providing connectivity and accessibility to these areas would be important not only to attract tourists but investors as well. In my experience, I still need to take the Siargao-Cebu-Davao route by airplane instead of moving directly between Siargao and Davao City.
Under the Duterte administration, the allocated budget for both the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the Mindanao Development Authority increased significantly. Infrastructure projects are also already in the pipeline like the Mindanao Railway System that will total 2,000 kilometers in length. The proposed railway system, which is an estimated $9 billion investment, will interconnect Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, General Santos, Surigao, and Iligan. Other infrastructure projects in Mindanao will include the upgrading and modernization of airports and seaports, as well as road networks that will improve access to tourism destinations and farm-to-market.
Initiatives like the Mindanao Strategic Development Framework (2010-2020) and Mindanao 2020 (M2020) Peace and Development Framework Plan are already in place and guide the direction of development in Mindanao. The M2020 has also been supplemented by the Mindanao Development Corridors strategy, which basically clusters the region into three. The Western Mindanao Corridor will be focused mainly on mariculture and trade activities. The Northern Mindanao cluster will concentrate on industrial trade. Lastly, the South-Central Mindanao Development Corridor can accommodate the main agricultural activities, including agri-business and logistics, as well as biodiversity and eco-tourism.
USAID has also been active in carrying out the Growth and Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program from 1995 to 2013.Their activities focused on livelihood assistance, disaster response and risk management, climate change adaptation, governance and infrastructure development.
Such continuing interest in Mindanao proves that the region is primed for growth and development. For the longest time, it seemed that Mindanao has been perceived as the backdoor to the Philippines. A closer look at the world map would show us that Mindanao has a great opportunity to be the country’s frontdoor to Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Australia and New Zealand.
It is important to prepare Mindanao for the influx of investments through proper planning and development guidelines, so as not to repeat the mistakes of Metro Manila. At present, Davao City is already experiencing traffic congestion and is feeling the pressure to make necessary improvements to its mobility and transportation given the attention it is gaining from investors. Comprehensive and collaborative planning is urgently needed as the rapidly growing population and urbanization estimates that there will be 35 million more Filipinos by 2050.
I believe that Mindanao will continue to flourish, should there be visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design, and good governance. It can contribute significantly to the Philippines becoming one of the top 20 economies by 2021. As we observe Eid’l Fitr on June 26 with our Muslim brothers and sisters in the Philippines, we also pray for lasting peace and progress in Mindanao.