New administration facing challenges in Mindanao

Published by rudy Date posted on June 8, 2010

DAVAO CITY — Mindanao’s situation appears to be improving with recent developments providing respite to alarming issues that have emerged in recent months. Foremost of these are security and power supply deficiency.

After all the hard-line statements issued in recent weeks, the government and Moro rebel peace panels have agreed to preserve gains achieved in more than a decade of difficult negotiations.

The apparent onset of the rainy season in Southern Mindanao in early May is also a major development, particularly on its impact to agriculture and to improving water supply in dams to boost the island’s hydroelectric power supply. In a few weeks, parched farms would again be productive while hydroelectric plants should be able to operate at normal capacity.

Mindanao’s economy could be made vibrant again amid the usual wait-and-see stance with the start of a new administration. Still, these developments are short term and do not solve the island’s problems in the coming months.

The security and economic outlook remains uncertain, if not blurry, unless positive actions emanate from the National Government. The joint declaration of the two peace panels merely tosses to the next administration contentious issues that have bugged the peace process for years.

On a positive note, Moro rebels have expressed preference for Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” C. Aquino III among other presidential candidates even if its members did not participate in the electoral exercise. This is not, however, an assurance that the peace process will proceed smoothly in the coming months. A good sign of things to come, however, is that the position of peace process adviser was among the first positions filled up in the incoming administration in the person of Teresita “Ging” Q. Deles. Ms. Deles, chairman of the National Anti-Poverty Commission of the Arroyo administration, resigned in 2005 after the disclosure of an alleged poll scandal involving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and an election official.

The next administration will face constitutional barriers that would grant full autonomy to the Bangsamoro (Muslim nation) and unless changes in the Constitution are made, peace negotiations would likely drag on for years. That is assuming the rebels are patient enough to understand the new government’s disposition on the issue.

What makes the case much more difficult to resolve is that many elected officials believe they have the final say on the Bangsamoro issue, and are ignoring sentiments of the main interested parties, specifically the Moros and lumads (natives), or even migrants who have a better understanding of the southern conflict.

By the way, this could explain the dismal performance of former president Joseph “Erap” E. Estrada and Senator Manuel “Mar” A. Roxas II in Moro-dominated areas in the last elections. The Moros did not forget the Estrada administration’s all-out war in the late 1990s and the canceled territorial deal two years ago supposedly at the instance of Mr. Roxas, among others who opposed the agreement.

The energy situation also requires a good measure of intervention from the incoming administration considering previous projections which have cited Mindanao’s power deficiency starting this year despite hydroelectric plants running at normal capacity.

Again, this is not an easy task since the approach has to be acceptable to Mindanao businesses and ordinary consumers. This means keeping rates lower than those charged to Luzon and Visayas consumers, or until the Mindanao consumers’ income catches up with counterparts in the northern regions.

The environmental impact of new projects should also be included in the equation — from the effects of climate change on the project to its ecological and social impact. Thus, popular consultations and community-friendly strategies should be pursued to ensure project sustainability in the long run.

Beyond the peace process and power deficiency, other issues need urgent attention from decision makers such as terrorism and banditry in the western provinces that have pulled down economic growth for decades. Meanwhile, insurgency has become more active in the eastern regions.

Old mining issues have resurfaced of late, specifically in Diwalwal in Compostela Valley where small-scale miners that have been digging for gold for decades fear losing their livelihood under the government’s policy of allowing big firms to operate in mineral-rich areas. In addition, problems on existing projects need solutions from all interested parties, including the host communities.

After all these years, Mindanao still yearns for significant national support, especially in agriculture and infrastructure. This refers not only to the flow of state resources but to private investments as well. Should the incoming president excite the market and succeeds in introducing measures better than his predecessor, businesses may be more prepared in facing Mindanao’s challenges.

For example, Davao Region’s success in the export-based agribusiness is private-sector driven. The success could be replicated in neighboring regions where some plantations, run by farmer cooperatives, have expanded. That assumes an improving investment climate under the new administration.

Many big business projects are coming to Mindanao, especially to Davao Region and Northern Mindanao since last year. Among booming businesses in this city outside of agriculture in the last two years are retail trade, property development, tourism and business process outsourcing. –Downsouth — By Hernani De Leon

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