Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Muslim Mindanao: Mecca for Mega-Investments, Manufacturing, Marketing, Mining

Many remain cynical, pessimistic, and even negative about the recently concluded Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that both sides said would put an end to the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.

A Facebook friend who also happens to be a respected Muslim leader reflects this cynicism in a status update when she wrote: “Came from the signing of the GPH-MILF Comprehensive Agreement for the Bangsamoro. Today, let us be unabashedly happy and proud. Tomorrow we can worry again.”

It is hard to blame some people’s cynicism.  After all, many agreements have been forged in the past only to be broken and resulted in failure.

I cannot but express my optimism on this one. In fact, by way of a Comment on my Facebook friend’s update, I wrote: “Yes, as Fleetwood Mac would say or sing,

‘Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before.’                                                                  
This is the theme song of the Bill Clinton-Al Gore campaign that brought hope and optimism for the future of America. In fact, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy because during Clinton’s Presidency, things ended up better than ever before.
Records show that: a) The economy had grown for 116 consecutive months, the most in history; b) The economy had created more than 22.5 million jobs in less than eight years—the most jobs ever created under a single administration, and more than were created in the previous 12 years; c) Overall unemployment had dropped to the lowest level in more than 30 years; d) Inflation was at the lowest rate since the Kennedy Administration, averaging 2.5 percent; and e) The surplus in FY 2000 was $237 billion—the third consecutive surplus and the largest surplus ever.
I was as optimistic when PNoy became President of the Philippines. It looks like we now expect a better tomorrow.
What about Muslim Mindanao?
Moody’s Investors Service said, “the latest peace agreement between the government and a major Muslim rebel group could further boost the credit rating of the Philippines.”

Moody’s cited the positive impact on the country’s investment climate.

It further said, “The sectors that could benefit the most from the potential increase in investments would be mining and agriculture, where Mindanao has a comparative advantage. The pact promises to boost growth and investment in what is one of the poorest, although resource-rich, parts of the country.”

“The truce should facilitate greater investor interest across the several provinces in the island of Mindanao,” it also said in the report, which was authored by Christian de Guzman, a senior analyst and vice president for the sovereign risk group of the credit-rating firm.

Moody’s expects the contributions of Muslim Mindanao to the entire economy to improve later on.

Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan pointed out that if the government could achieve and sustain peace in Mindanao, the region was bound to surpass the growth of the whole of Luzon: “Mindanao will boom. It will grow faster than Luzon because the peace and order problem is the only one constraining it. If you get that [out of the picture], I’m very positive it will grow much faster than Luzon.”

The Makati Business Club also expressed some hopes: “We are hopeful that the effective implementation of the Agreement will unleash the region’s vast potentials for agriculture and agribusiness investments, tourism, and natural resource development, among others. With this achieved, Mindanao will take its deserving place as a truly vibrant and essential part of the Philippine economic engine.
With the country’s steadily improving investment climate, the peace deal presents a golden opportunity for the Bangsamoro and Mindanao.”
According to an editorial piece, Muslim Mindanao or Bangsamoro accounts for 27 percent of Mindanao’s land area, which, in turn, is about the size of Luzon. Yet it is the poorest of the regions, contributing less than 1 percent to the Philippines’ gross domestic product. The National Capital Region has the biggest share of the country’s GDP (35.7 percent in 2012), followed by Calabarzon (17.4 percent), and Central Luzon (9.2 percent).

We are hoping that with peace in Mindanao, development will come. Mega-investments would flow from both domestic and foreign investors, be they in manufacturing, marketing or distribution, banking, and mining. Perhaps, a new barter system could also be put in place. 

It would be good if investors from Arab and other Muslim countries would finally come and contribute to Muslim Mindanao’s full economic, political, and social development. On this, I am also hopeful.

Mindanao is close to my heart.  I was always hopeful for the day that it would attain and enjoy peace, justice, development, and prosperity.

When we escaped from Marcos’ Martial Law regime, my wife Tina and our only child then, Tanya, roamed Mindanao twice. First, was a dry run in order to check if our moves were being monitored. Second, was when we actually escaped. In fact, I was disguised as a Muslim barter trader assuming the name “Abdul Julkanain” and Muslims assisted us in our entire route that eventually reached Sabah.

We actually saw Jolo after it was burnt to the ground.  We were in Cotabato while the rebels and government forces were exchanging fires.  We were witnesses to the ravages of war. We rode the kumpit (pump boat) without a compass but directed by a “badjao” who depended on the moon and the sun as our GPS. We were chased by pirates in the high seas, and witnessed the Muslim soldiers escorting us who chased back the pirates with their submachine guns.

The role of the Malaysian government and the Muslims in our escape, and those who followed us, is highly appreciated and is beyond forgetting.

The role of the Malaysian government and the Muslims in helping forge a peaceful agreement for the benefit of the Filipino people is of even greater historical significance that future generations should remember.

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