What to solve first in Mindanao: Poverty or security?
Expectations are high for the new peace deal in Mindanao.
After more than four decades of struggle and years of negotiations, many are hoping for the best that the Bangsamoro agreement would bring peace and progress in the region.
Proponents of the accord pointed out that the clinching of the peace deal is only the end of the beginning. And it is in this light that local businessmen are now struggling to hurdle the overwhelming number of challenges in the war-torn region.
In a meeting with European ambassadors last April 25, members of the Mindanao Business Council (MinBC) enumerated the many issues the region continues to face as they anticipate the establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity, the product of a peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
“So much needs to be done in the area. Since the people have high expectations…[we need to] concretize [the promised progress] in order for them to believe that peace is the best alternative to going to war,” MinBC representative Jainal Hamad said during the group’s presentation at the Al-Nor Hotel and Convention compound in Cotabato City.
He gave a briefing for the European Union (EU) delegates including Ambassadors Guy Ledoux (EU), Thomas Ossowski (Germany), Massimo Roscigno (Italy), Josef Muellner (Austria), and Roland Van Remoortele (Belgium).
Also in attendance were Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Trevor Lewis (United Kingdom Embassy) and Mihai Sion (Romania Embassy), deputy Ambassadors Hugues-Antoine Suin (France) and Jan Vytopil (Czech Republic), and Senior Program Manager of General of Spanish Cooperation in the Philippines Carlos Gallego.
Jobs or security first?
During the forum, German ambassador Ossowki admitted that it would be difficult for the diplomats to convince entrepreneurs to invest in the region “if security problems exist.”
“I believe there must be ways and means to address the security issue here within the community before we generate jobs,” he said.
But MinBC chairman Vic Lao said poverty is the first thing that must be resolved if people want to maintain peace.
“When you generate livelihood and poverty is resolved then maybe you resolve the issue on terrorism, you resolve the issue of kidnapping because people will be having jobs and they will not be thinking of joining rebels because they are busy making a living,” he said.
“The fastest way for us to solve poverty in this area is really to just generate livelihood,” Lao added.
However, he admitted that “It’s a chicken and egg situation.”
Lao said that they also have to “taper [their] expectations” of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) because of such challenges that must first be addressed.
Other members of the MinBC pointed out that the Normalization annex of the CAB should be able to address the security problem, though it would take a while since the peace deal itself is a long transition process.
The annex on Normalization, finalized two months before the CAB was inked, details the laying down of weapons of MILF members and their transition to civilian life. It describes normalization as a process through which the communities affected by the conflict in Mindanao can return to peaceful life and pursue sustainable livelihood.
In the meantime, the businessmen suggested that foreign investors could tap local partners who are more knowledgeable in the “terrain” and the risks involved in doing business in Mindanao.
They said security may not be resolved overnight and that it is part of the risk. But they are hopeful that the situation will change as the region gets exposed to more economic opportunities.
Hamad, during his presentation, said the region is in need of a bank devoted to the constituents of the Bangsamoro, which was supposedly the purpose of the Al Amanah Islamic Investment Bank of the Philippines.
The Amanah Islamic Bank, formerly Philippine Amanah Bank, was formed in 1973 through Presidential Decree 264 and was intended to serve the banking needs of the Muslim community. But MinBC said the bank has not fully served its intended purpose.
Hamad also discussed the region’s power woes, and the immediate need for affordable and sustainable power supplies, in addition to infrastructure.
He said Mindanao has long been “neglected and deprived” and it needs to catch up with other areas in the country that have already developed.
He also emphasized the need for post-harvest facilities in the province to help pave the way for products that have value added and may later be exported.
Hamad said if the communities are able to work together, their raw materials may be “consolidated” to create export-ready products.
“We are ready for development, there’s a lot to export from the area,” he said, before adding that the business sector cannot do it alone.
“We need investment to make this a reality on the ground,” he said.
By the end of the forum, EU Ambassador Ledoux promised the local business sector their support through livelihood programs created by the Mindanao Trust Fund Project, which is administered by the World Bank, and a technical assistance grant with the Department of Trade and Investment.
Ledoux said the EU recently infused the trust fund with P500 million. The same amount was given to the DTI for capacity building programs.
He assured the businessmen that European investors are interested in the opportunities afforded by Mindanao and that they are optimistic with the steps being made towards peace and security in the region.
In addition to meeting with the MinBC, the EU delegation also discussed the prospects of the Bangsamoro with officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, leaders of the MILF in Camp Darapanan and members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that day.
The group later inspected projects funded by the Mindanao Trust Fund in Maguindanao.
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