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As I See It
Tourism is key to Mindanao progress and peace

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:53:00 07/14/2009

Filed Under: Tourism, Mindanao peace process, Poverty, Red cross kidnapping, Laws, Medicines

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, does not believe that an all-out war against the Abu Sayyaf will eliminate kidnapping and lawlessness in Mindanao. Even if you kill all the Abu Sayyaf, he said, others will take their place for as long as ?extreme poverty? (emphasis on ?extreme?) is not eliminated. Banditry is forced on the people by poverty. They have no jobs, no other means of livelihood, no food for their families, no future. The only thing they have are their guns. So they resort to kidnappings and other forms of banditry. We in Luzon call it ?kapit sa patalim? (clinging to a sharp knife).

Sicilian engineer-businessman Armand de Rossi, who was instrumental in having Italian Red Cross worker Eugenio Vagni released by his kidnappers, agrees with Gordon. The two were guests at the Kapihan sa Manila last Monday, along with Arnel Guballa, Manila regional director of the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

De Rossi said it was the promise of more development assistance, not the payment of any ransom, that convinced the kidnappers to release Vagni. (The government has denied any payment of ransom, but rumors to this effect persist.) De Rossi?s private American foundation has a good track record of helping Mindanao Muslims for years, giving them carabaos, cattle, hand tractors, and other assistance. De Rossi is a naturalized Filipino citizen and has been in the Philippines for 30 years.

He said he talked to Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad?s two wives, Rowena Aksan and Nursima Annudden, who had been arrested at a military checkpoint, and told them that if Vagni was not released, his foundation would discontinue its projects. Parad?s wives, he said, knew of his foundation?s many projects in Sulu.

Gordon said tourism development and promotion are the key to progress in Mindanao. Agriculture has not been able to do that, except for the big banana and pineapple plantations. Top officials in Manila have not bothered to go to Mindanao to see the situation, he said. If they had, they would have seen farm produce rotting or being sold very cheap because they could not be brought to market. So there is no incentive for agriculture. But the Sulu seas are dotted with tiny islands that Western tourists dream of, he said.

I agree with the senator on this. I covered then President Diosdado Macapagal, the father of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as he campaigned in Mindanao from a Philippine Navy ship. Instead of going overland, he landed on beaches, like Douglas MacArthur, and went inland. That way, he reached secluded places, areas never before reached by national candidates, especially presidential bets.

On the way to Jolo, we passed by innumerable islets with white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, gentle surf and blue seas all around?a paradise which Western tourists dream of. With an international airport in Jolo and fast boats to the nearby islands, Sulu could easily become the tourism capital of the world.

The trouble is that the reputation of Mindanao as the kidnapping capital of the world would precede any tourism promotion. But as tourism supporters say, development and progress will wipe out banditry, because the Muslims resort to banditry because they have nothing to eat. Give them food and jobs and they will forget kidnapping. It is like the pirates off the coast of Somalia. They resort to piracy because there is practically no government in Somalia and the people have nothing to eat and nothing to do. Therefore, give the Mindanao Muslims jobs and progress will come to Mindanao.

Granted, but which should come first: peace and order or progress? How can there be progress if there is no law and order? Why will tourists go to Mindanao when it is not safe to go there? And how will peace come to Mindanao if there is no progress? It?s a vicious cycle.

Gordon?s answer is: Force tourism on Mindanao if we have to. It can be done. Instead of using the military and police to hunt down and kill the outlaws, use them to protect tourists. Employ the Muslims in the tourism industry, not only Christians. Promote Muslim culture. The Muslims have a very colorful culture, much older than the culture introduced here by the Spaniards and Americans. And dispel that belief that Muslims cannot be trusted and are warlike. It was only the Americans that started that canard when they could not conquer the Muslims. And anyway, the Muslim culture would be attractive to tourists.

Alas, until now Christian Filipinos still think of Muslims the same way the Americans brainwashed us to think, Gordon said. It is time we changed that way of thinking. They are our brothers. We should treat them as brothers.

* * *

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is right: That offer to President Macapagal-Arroyo by multinational pharmaceutical company Pfizer to distribute P100 million worth of discount cards in exchange for not issuing an executive order fixing medicine prices was a bribe attempt.

In the first place, the Cheaper Medicines Act was passed by Congress and is now a law. It mandates the President to issue an executive order lowering the prices of medicines. It does not give her the option not to issue one if the pharmaceutical companies voluntarily lower their prices. If she doesn?t issue the order, she would be violating the law. There is no contradiction between price controls and a voluntary lowering of prices.

In the second place, if the multinationals can lower their prices, why have they not done so until now when the government is on the verge of imposing price control? That can only mean that they have been overcharging Filipinos all along.

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