Build new development paradigm

Published by rudy Date posted on August 21, 2010


MANILA, Philippines—Urooj S. Malik’s article, “Mindanao can be RP food basket” (Talk of the Town, Aug. 8), is a well-meaning attempt at breaking the current political and economic impasse in Mindanao. The problem, however, is that it ends up hewing closely to the long-running Manila-imposed strategy of utilizing Mindanao’s human and natural resources to benefit non-Mindanaoans.

He ignores the problem of redistribution of wealth and resources, especially between Mindanao-Sulu on one hand, and Metro Manila and other northern regions on the other. Malik labors under the assumption that economic growth is the answer to Mindanao’s problems and that the “territorial issue” should be placed on the back burner.

Sustained growth

In doing so he conveniently forgets that sustained economic growth has been taking place in Mindanao all these years.

Between 1990 and 2000, the Mindanao economy grew by 22.7 percent. From 1995 to 2000, Mindanao’s average GDP growth rate of 3.69 percent was only slightly less than the national average rate of 3.76 percent. From 2003 to 2007, Mindanao’s average growth rate rose to 5.02 percent, with the 2007 growth rate alone standing at 6.91 percent.

The economic growth generated little or no benefits for the greater number of Mindanaoans—Moros, lumads (indigenous peoples) and the Christianized working class. Within such a context, it is not difficult to see why the territorial issue remains important.

Food crisis

Malik uses the premise of an impending Philippine food crisis to argue for greater food production in Mindanao. But Mindanao, already provides for 40 percent of the country’s food needs while many in the southern regions go hungry themselves. Shouldn’t a regional development strategy resolve to take care of the basic needs of Mindanao peoples first before the rest of the country?

The issue, therefore, is “internal colonialism,” a problem that has long been highlighted by Bangsamoro separatist groups as the core concern of their struggle.

Contrary to popular belief, economic growth and development have not bypassed the southern regions of the Philippines. A closer look at Mindanao’s economic development reveals that far from being isolated from the mainstream of the national economy, the island has been a major performer and a primary contributor to the country’s productive capacities.

Lured by vast reserves of natural resources, business concerns have invested capital and technology, and established ventures that have generated enormous profits for their owners and executives. But the resulting wealth and incomes have not benefited the greater majority of its people.

Marcos strategy

Poverty and other social indicators point to a more distressed condition for Mindanao residents than for the nation as a whole. (See sidebar.)

Under the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986), Mindanao took on a new importance. Development strategies were formulated in the midst of increasing social tensions, rapid depletion of the land frontier, increasing land concentration and agrarian conflicts, and further marginalization and impoverishment especially of the Moro and lumad peoples.

Compelling factors were the rise of the Moro separatist movements and the inroads made by the communist New People’s Army’s guerrilla war.

Marcos put in place a massive infrastructure-development program designed to attract big investments by facilitating the transport of goods and people, generate more electric power and boost agricultural production.

The Philippine state took the lead in investing in export-oriented agribusiness plantations and industrial production, often in partnership with local and foreign entrepreneurs, not to mention Marcos cronies.

Foreign investments, however, fell short of the government-set targets even as they avoided conflict-ridden areas. The result was a skewed development that favored already relatively developed areas such as the Davao region and northern Mindanao provinces.


Production for an external market did little to address Mindanao’s economic and social problems, resulting instead in the siphoning of the island’s resources and wealth to already affluent sectors in Luzon, the Visayas and foreign capitals.

There was considerable local resistance to this pattern of development from communities and sectors such as peasants, workers, urban poor and the middle class. Such protests were met with state power, militarization and human rights abuses which only served to fuel the fires of resistance and drove large segments of the population into the Moro separatist movement and the communist guerrillas.

By the 1980s, rebellion and popular resistance had become so widespread that Marcos’ development agenda for Mindanao was in serious jeopardy.

By the time the dictator was toppled in a popular uprising in January 1986, Mindanao was in a worse state than in previous decades. Its growth rates had stagnated and industrial advances were insignificant. The few areas of growth were basically of the enclave-type of development, e.g., export fruits that had little or no linkages, forward or backward, with the local economy.

Post-Marcos era

Its biggest agricultural sector, the coconut industry, virtually collapsed in the midst of efforts by Marcos cronies to monopolize it and corner billions of pesos of levies forcibly collected from poor coconut farmers. The millions of dollars spent for Marcos’ development projects in Mindanao only succeeded in aggravating the poverty situation of Mindanao’s peoples.

The post-Marcos development strategies of Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did not differ essentially from those of the previous decades. The only change was in the character of the Philippine state which had now shaken off its authoritarian cloak and taken on a democratic façade.

Whether these be Aquino’s regional industrial centers, Ramos’ Mindanao Investment Development Authority and Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area, or Arroyo’s “Mindanao National Initiatives,” the basic premises and principles remained unchanged.

In 2006, Arroyo launched what she called the Super Regional Development Strategy, which divided the country into five super regions with “Agribusiness Mindanao” being one of them. As the name implies, Mindanao is to focus on agribusiness as its “competitive edge,” particularly in the cultivation of “high-value crops.”

In January 2010, Congress created the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) which seeks to accelerate growth and development by establishing a central planning agency for southern Philippines. Echoing Arroyo’s initiative, MinDA would focus on agribusiness as a major area for economic development.

It is doubtful, however, whether Mindanao’s hope lies in agribusiness, which, at present, already occupies a central place in the island’s economy. Agribusiness activities have caused more problems than solutions for Mindanao’s people, through environmental degradation, human rights violations, corruption, health problems and wealth transfer.


Mindanao development continues to be driven by the Philippine state’s objective of integrating the southern economy into the national mainstream with little or no regard for the actual needs of Mindanao’s peoples. The focus is on attracting investments in export-led and market-driven growth industries.

The aim is to open up more of Mindanao’s natural resources to exploitation and extraction with big foreign and local business interests as the prime movers. Little, however, is done to directly address issues of poverty and inequality which are the principal causes of social unrest and rebellion.

Development planners naively hope that investment benefits will “trickle down” to the rest of the population.

As in the Marcos years, hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into Mindanao in the form of business investments and foreign aid. Yet the Davao research group, the Alternative Forum for Research in Mindanao, noted that development projects in the post-authoritarian period continually fail to address the “inequitable distribution of land, continued siphoning off of the island’s wealth by big business, disregard for indigenous people’s rights and government lack of vision.”

Muslim Mindanao

In Muslim Mindanao, development agencies created in the wake of the 1996 peace agreement have floundered due to lack of funds, corruption, weak mandate and traditional politics. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is deprived of meaningful autonomy and has little control over its own affairs.

Due to the ongoing armed conflicts, economic development programs have been on a standstill, with most government and foreign funds going to relief and emergency assistance and rehabilitation.

The implementation of the $50-million multidonor Mindanao Trust Fund-Reconstruction and Development Program still awaits the signing of a final peace agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Manila government.

The relentless economic exploitation of Mindanao since the turn of the 20th century has produced immeasurable wealth and riches for a few mostly non-Mindanaoan firms and individuals. But it has also generated poverty and social marginalization for its working population, whether Moro, lumad or working class Christian settlers.

Furthermore, its natural resources are being depleted at an uncontrollable pace, stoking fears of an ecological backlash.

Internal colonialism

Internal colonialism is reflected in the phenomenon of regional transfers of wealth from less developed areas to national centers of political and economic power. This is clearly evident in the Mindanao case. The data show how large volumes of copra from Mindanao are shipped to Cebu and Manila and fish products caught in Mindanao waters are unloaded in Manila and Iloilo ports.

Corporations (including TNCs) with production operations in Mindanao usually have their main offices in Metro Manila. Thus, they pay taxes in Manila and deprive provincial and municipal governments of revenue.

Internal colonialism would explain why, despite the presence of massive government projects and highly profitable industries, the Mindanao regions remain poor and deprived.

In the meantime, the Manila government is bent on accelerating the same age-old patterns of inequitable growth that have long deprived Mindanaoans of their just share of the economic surplus. The country’s leaders must initiate a process of constructing a new development paradigm for Mindanao that will finally render unto Mindanao’s peoples social and economic justice.

The grim alternative will be the continuation of the cycle of violence and warfare that have long characterized southern Philippines.

(Eduardo Climaco Tadem, Ph.D., is professor of Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He is currently a visiting researcher at the Kyoto University Center for Southeast Asian Studies. This essay is excerpted from three of his previous studies: “The Political Economy of Mindanao: An Overview” in Mark Turner, et al. (eds), Mindanao: Land of Unfulfilled Promise (Quezon City: New Day Publishers) 1992; “Mindanao Briefing Paper” (2007), a research report submitted to the Consuelo Foundation; and “Development and Distress in Mindanao: A Political Economy Overview,” UP Forum [Vol. 11, No. 1] Jan-Feb 2010.) –Eduardo Climaco Tadem, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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