THE Philippines is 123 years old and in all these years, we have often worn the Luzon lens when we talk of the country; more so of the National Capital Region (NCR). There are people from Luzon who have not traveled to Mindanao because of the peace and order situation there and the preconceived notion that Mindanao is different from the rest of the country.
Mindanao is the second largest island of the country and the seventh most populous island in the world. It is divided into six administrative regions, 27 provinces, 33 cities and 10,082 barangay (villages). These regions are the Zamboanga Peninsula (Region 9), Northern Mindanao (Region 10), Davao Region (Region 11), Soccsksargen (Region 12), Caraga (Region 13) and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The island is contiguous with 10,202,192 hectares in terms of total land area and is the food basket of the country.
Mindanao's economy accounts for 14 percent of the country's gross domestic product. Agriculture, forestry and fishing make up more than 40 percent of Mindanao's market, being the country's largest supplier of major crops such as pineapples and bananas. There are two defined growth corridors: Metro Davao and Metro Cagayan de Oro. But because of the Mindanao Development Authority, established by virtue of Republic Act 9996, much has been developed in the island. Five major clusters have been formed: mariculture and trade cluster in Western Mindanao; business and industry cluster in Northern Mindanao; biodiversity and ecotourism cluster along Surigao del Sur; food, agribusiness, industry and logistics cluster by Davao; and food basket cluster by Southern Mindanao. These clusters are based on the spatial translation of Mindanao 2020, the peace and development framework from 2011 to 2030.
There are three development corridors: Northern Mindanao Development Corridor which will be the gateway to domestic markets with Phivedec and 88 manufacturing and service locators that operate in the area; Western Mindanao Development Corridor which is close to Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei and made up of provinces which are top producers of fishery-based products; and the South-Central Mindanao Development Corridor which accounts for more than 50 percent of Mindanao's total agricultural production.
As has been pointed out, President Rodrigo Duterte is the 16th and first Mindanaoan president of the Republic. The Visayas had three: Sergio Osmeña, Manuel Roxas and Carlos Garcia. Luzon has given us 12 presidents and from such a lens we view our country to be more Luzon and biased to NCR. With Covid-19, it has made us realize population density will often be a risk associated with health, education and development. Developing logistics and supply chain networks outside of NCR and Mega Manila will lessen the strain in an overcrowded area causing pressure on carrying capacity. Much of the funds of the country have also been invested in NCR, Region 3 (Central Luzon) and Region 4-A (Calabarzon), forgetting much of the peripheries, and now Mindanao is at the center, we ridicule and call the 16th president a "madman" because he does not conform to the lens of people from Luzon and NCR.
After six years of being at the center, Mindanao is improving and developing. Various priority programs and projects have started, from airports, highways, railway systems, bridges, coastal road system, city ecozone, circumferential roads, ports, industrial estates, among others. If we are to correct the distortions of development in the country, another six years of a Mindanaoan leader is necessary to build the island and ensure the peace dividend benefits all Mindanaoans. We speed up growth that creates more and better jobs, we address poverty on the island. By addressing poverty, we directly respond to decades of rebellion and terrorism in the corner of Mindanao. Without development in Mindanao, we will never achieve sustained and inclusive growth, and that is what is at stake come May 2022.
Yes, we have to address the health sector because of what the pandemic has taught us. We need to rebuild our education sector because of two to three years of blended learning, and we have to rebuild the economy. We will never go back to the way we were and we will have to live with the pandemic if we are to see things through the future. Disruptions have led to innovations and resiliency and we will need more of that to be competitive by 2028.
The leader we will elect should have the heart of a Filipino, the grit of a Mindanaoan, the discipline and hard work of an individual who was not used to a lens of the privileged center and forever carried by oligarchs, not necessarily poor for it can blur the lens of equity. That individual should be willing to burn the night lamp to study, learn and make the hard choices knowing it covers 110 million Filipinos who are noisy, opinionated, judgmental and will never see the light of day if their candidate does not make it to the finish line. We need youth, a person in good health because the weight of the presidency is huge. We need stability, someone who listens clearly, intently and in all sincerity. We need a leader with humility, but is capable of getting mad when greed gets in the way of service. We need a fearful leader, knowing the only guide in six years in office is a deep faith in the One Being and not a rallying cry of pretentious belief.