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Democratizing development

There were two images from the news the past few weeks which I found both striking and indicative of the Duterte administration’s sincere efforts to implement countryside development.

The first was Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe eating durian, the so-called “king of fruits,” during his visit to Davao City. In what the Palace described as a “friendly, not-so-formal visit” to the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte, PM Abe also visited the latter’s house and ate breakfast composed of biko, monggo soup, and suman.

The Japanese prime minister also adopted and named a Philippine Eagle “Sakura,” a Japanese word for “cherry blossoms”. This trip to Davao City was part of Abe’s two-day official visit reciprocating Duterte’s official visit to Japan in October.

The second was President Duterte leading the official launch of our chairmanship this year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Davao City last January 15.

As host of ASEAN for 2017, the Philippines chose a theme that reflects both the vision and challenges of ASEAN: “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.”

In his speech during the launch, the President emphasized that our chairmanship will focus on “the very core of our national and regional interest: our peoples.”

These two images, while largely symbolic, reinforces what the President has promised during the campaign and what he has set out to do after assuming power last year – growth, progress, and development to the countryside; to move focus away from Manila to the provinces.

The National Capital Region (NCR) has historically been the center of the economic, political, sometimes even cultural developments of the country. In 2016, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that the NCR continues to have the largest share of the country’s Gross Domestic Product at 36.5%.

The NCR continues to drive the growth of the economy. But this has resulted in inequity as growth is more concentrated in the capital. We need a more inclusive growth.

Even in terms of politics and government, NCR lords it over the rest of the country. With major government institutions located at the capital and with the institutional arrangements largely centered on Manila making political decisions, local governments find themselves controlled by what many call “imperial Manila.”

One of the reasons I supported President Duterte was his insistence on democratizing development, i.e., allowing the countryside to get a bigger share of national development.

I am glad that the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has committed to ensuring the decentralization of development away from Metro Manila to the other parts of the country.

That is why those two images–PM Abe’s visit to Davao and the launch of ASEAN 2017 outside Metro Manila – were striking and significant. We need to start thinking beyond the capital and make sure we spread the development around.

And it is not just Metro Davao. Let us accelerate development in North, Central and South Luzon. What about the Panay region? What about Mindanao? Holding important national and international events there is a good first step. But we cannot stop there.

We need to follow that up with investments in infrastructure. That is why I fully support the plans of Duterte’s economic managers to build a 2,000-kilometer Mindanao Railway project that would connect key Mindanao cities, including Davao, Zamboanga, Butuan, Surigao, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and General Santos.

Coupled with the possibility of a peace agreement with Muslim rebels, imagine what this kind of infrastructure project would do to economic development in the region. The possibilities for growth, tourism, investments, and trade are simply limitless!

The Duterte administration has also laid out plans to start constructing the P21.67- billion Panay-Guimaras-Negros Bridge which is also designed to spur development in the provinces of this region.

In terms of politics and government, Congress has already announced that they are looking seriously at the possibility of a shift to federalism. I will discuss my thoughts on this topic in future columns but whatever your position is on the shift to federalism, I am sure we can all agree on the need to shift the balance of power from Metro Manila to local governments.

I know that a lot of people spend so much time focusing on the controversies of our politics. Many people have invested so much time in looking at scandals and at destroying political opponents. But to me, politics is about getting things done. And I focus on the bigger picture.

I hope government will be successful in democratizing development in the country. It is this kind of “people-centric” development that our country needs. It is this kind of equitable development that would allow us to win another war we are waging – the war against poverty. (Senator Manny Villar)

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