Mindanao will soon play a pivotal role in the current Philippine economic boom. I have seen the construction of several infrastructure projects in Mindanao that will certainly boost further the island’s economy in the near future.
The election of President Rodrigo Duterte as the first president from Mindanao has helped in the progress that we are now witnessing in the island. Christians and Muslims and the several native ethnic groups in Mindanao are now more confident of their future, unlike before when the feeling of helplessness was widespread. This time around, the people of Mindanao feel they are relevant to nation building and represented in the government after being long ignored by past administrations.
Several factors and developments will lead to that long-awaited Mindanao promise. Peace and order, of course, will be the main anchor of Mindanao’s development. Few businessmen or investors will make their bet on Mindanao if it remains mired in conflict. Peace is essential to economic development and businessmen will only locate their operations in the island if the state can guarantee their security.
President Duterte is right in giving priority to the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao, where the minority Muslims have fought a bloody war against government forces and sought secession from the Philippines. Duterte has pushed for the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will give rise to a genuine autonomous region and bring healing and reconciliation to the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people.
The President stressed that the entire Philippines, including the Bangsamoro region, would benefit from the BBL. He said the BBL “embodies our shared aspirations of a peaceful, orderly and harmonious nation” following decades of armed struggle and violence.
The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, he said, “puts into life and spirit the constitutional mandate provided in the 1987 Constitution for the establishment of a truly autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao.” The BBL will formalize the peace agreement reached earlier with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and will lead to the creation of an autonomous political entity named Bangsamoro, replacing the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
I am confident that both houses of Congress will soon agree on one version of the BBL so that President Duterte can sign it and resolve once and for all the conflict in Mindanao.
The ensuing peace in Mindanao will boost construction activities further and ease the job of the Department of Public Works and Highways, which in January this year secured a $380-million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to improve road networks in Mindanao.
This ADB loan alone will lead to a frenzy of infrastructure projects in the island. My son, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, has reported that the ADB loan from 2018 to 2023 would finance the construction of eight roads in Zamboanga Peninsula with a total length of 277.23 kilometers and additional three bridges in Tawi-Tawi province with a total length of 775 lineal meters. The ADB loan is significant because the DPWH can now use more of its budget to fund other key infrastructure projects of the government.
Three core projects are covered by the loan. These are the 23.69-kilometer Alicia-Malangas Road, 17.1-kilometer Tampilisan-Sandayong Road and 37.49-kilometer Lutiman-Guicam-Olutanga Road. The loan is ADB’s first support for a regional project in the “Golden Age of Infrastructure” under the Duterte administration.
The road network expansion is crucial to Mindanao. A wider road network will open up the countryside and Mindanao’s farms, and will result in faster delivery of goods and commodities. Eight of the top 10 exports of agricultural commodities of the Philippines come from Mindanao. These include banana, pineapple, coconut and coffee.
We must also remember that Mindanao is the biggest rubber producer in the Philippines because of its rich soil and good climatic conditions.
Increased farm and fisheries production through more community roads and bridges will raise the income of Mindanao’s countryside. With peace finally close to being a reality, Mindanao will soon deliver its full economic potential and become a major contributor to the gross domestic product.