Infrastructure is key
MINDANAO is rich in natural resources yet businesses generally avoid investing in many parts of the island, for reasons of security. No wonder the conflict-affected provinces in Mindanao are among the poorest in the country, many with minimal infrastructure and very few private-sector investment.
The connection between conflict and poverty is nowhere more evident than in the 2012-2013 Philippine Human Development Report. Sulu had the lowest human development index (HDI) of 0.216, followed by Maguindanao, 0.3; Tawi-Tawi, 0.31; Zamboanga, 0.353; Agusan del Sur, 0.354; Davao Oriental, 0.356; Sarangani, 0.371; Zamboanga del Norte, 0.384; and Lanao del Sur, 0.416. The common denominator of these provinces is conflict. The report noted that Sulu’s HDI was almost as bad as those of the poorest African countries.
The HDI measures human development by averaging three basic measurements: health, education and standard of living. Ideally, the HDI should be close to 1. In comparison, provinces in Luzon dominated the top performing provinces in the report: Benguet, 0.849; Batanes, 0.789; Rizal, 0.734; Cavite, 0.709; Bulacan, 0.699; Bataan, 0.698; Laguna, 0.695; Nueva Vizcaya, 0.678, and Ilocos Norte, 0.641. The HDI index in Metro Manila was 0.634.
Prof. Toby Melissa C. Monsod, the coordinator of the 2012/2013 Philippine Human Development Report, observed that aside from the conflict in Mindanao, the poor HDI rankings of provinces in the South had been due to a failure to have “connective infrastructure.” She cited as proof the overlapping public investments, many small projects with little or no development significance dotting towns and cities, such as waiting sheds, entrance arches and multipurpose pavements, resulting in “duplicative infrastructure and programs in disregard of scale, synergy and the conscious integration of larger markets.”
It is not that the government has no plan for developing Mindanao. In fact, there is a roadmap for Mindanao that was based on the Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila and Surrounding Areas, which the Aquino administration completed with help from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The roadmap includes short-, medium- and long-term strategies and investment programs for the development of the transport infrastructure sector to serve as a guide in the development of policies, prioritization and design of transport programs and projects, according to Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.
Perhaps the problem is in the implementation, which has been taking too long for many public infrastructure projects due mainly to funding problems. A case in point was the recently relaunched extension of the South Luzon Expressway to the province of Quezon, which was promised by the deposed strongman Ferdinand Marcos, approved during the term of President Fidel Ramos, and broke ground during the administration of President Gloria Arroyo.
Last week, the head of the country’s biggest conglomerate reiterated that building more infrastructure in Mindanao was the key to finding a long-term solution to its peace and order issues. San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang recalled an early investment he made in a cement plant in Batangas, which suffered from attacks by the New People’s Army in the early 1990s. Although Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Quezon are progressive provinces today, Ang said these were considered “no man’s land” at that time.
The government solved that, not by signing a peace treaty, but by building more roads, Ang said. The same can be true for Mindanao, he said. If the government and the private sector develop the area, then the economic status and the life of the people there would improve. “If you look at them now, [you will see that] they are having a hard time because infrastructure is lacking. The government should bid out ports, airports and other infrastructure in Mindanao, and the private sector should be the one to construct them,” he said.
It is difficult to imagine why much of Mindanao is in such a sorry economic state. It has the resources that can easily draw investments, particularly in agriculture and tourism. All previous studies point to the lack of basic
infrastructure—schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, seaports, airports—and of electricity as the main issue. If the government can’t do these due to budgetary constraints, then it should tap the private sector. There is this mechanism called the public-private partnership, which, sadly, has been moving much too slowly.
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