MINDANAO today has possibly the best opportunity to catch up with the rest of the country. For the first time in our history, we have a president from Mindanao – Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City. The two chambers of Congress are led by Senate President Koko Pimentel of Cagayan de Oro and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao.
President Duterte launched last Saturday in Cotabato City a Comprehensive Reform and Development Agenda for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and other conflict areas in the region, with a promise that the national government will bring in more funds for development and growth than ever before. Mindanao, he said, could become the richest region of the country because of its abundant natural resources and its vast agricultural lands.
But Mindanao is also the region with the greatest peace and order problem today. The Armed Forces are now conducting a drive against the Abu Sayyaf, with 38 now killed in the ongoing offensive by Task Force Sulu and the Army 11th Scout Ranger Company. Abu Sayyaf, it may be recalled, drew international condemnation when it beheaded kidnap victims from Canada and released other hostages from Indonesia only upon payment of ransom.
Elsewhere in Mindanao, an uncertain peace reigns in areas where the government has reached out to the Moro Islamic Liberation Force, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the New People’s Army. These three major armed groups are now meeting with representatives of the Duterte administration which has specific programs for them, including a federal system of government that will give the Moro leaders more than the usual authority of autonomous regions.
The problems in Mindanao are many but not insurmountable and the new administration should succeed where previous ones have failed. Today President Duterte is engrossed in the campaign against drugs all over the country. He is also striking out for a more independent foreign policy. He has called for a massive infrastructure spending program that should push national development to new heights.
But his heart, surely, is closest to Mindanao. This long-neglected third region of our country, always a “land of promise” that has not been fulfilled. During his speech in Cotabato City, he spoke of the promise of agriculture, pledging to provide tractors and fishing boats to the people. In the short term, he directed the Department of Social Welfare and Development to focus on projects that will help the people fight poverty and hunger.
We look forward to this special program for Mindanao. It will help balance national efforts for the various regions of the country and boost that southern island’s contribution to total Philippine growth and progress.