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Fighting in Mindanao scares off foreign investors

/ 02:20 AM November 07, 2011

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. INQUIRER file photo

The fighting between government troops and insurgents in Mindanao has scared away foreign investors who had wanted to buy meat and vegetables from  the region, according to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.

Alcala said a group of Singaporean businessmen was supposed to scout Mindanao for possible suppliers of various agricultural products but the news of the violent clashes between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) apparently caused them to cancel their trip.

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The latest violence in the region, which saw government air strikes on rebel camps, was sparked by an encounter between the military and the rebels in Basilan last month, where 19 soldiers were killed.

“It scared them so they didn’t push through [with their inspection trip],” Alcala said.

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He rued the lost opportunity for agricultural investment, saying it could have brought jobs to the rural areas which would have helped end the decades-long war there.

Hostilities between government forces and rebels in the predominantly Muslim region have practically brought development in Mindanao to a standstill, officials said. Of the 14 poorest provinces in the country, eight are in Mindanao, data from the National Statistics Coordination Board showed.

The Singaporeans were supposed to check out several producers and farmers in Mindanao from November 5 to 8. Although the area where the fighting was concentrated was located far from their itinerary, they still decided to scuttle the trip, Department of Agriculture officials added.

Dante Delima, a DA assistant secretary, said the Singaporean importers were planning to buy high-value vegetable crops like celery, cabbage, bell peppers, and fruits from the region. They were supposed to visit farms in Davao, Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro.

“They wanted just to be buyers at first. Later they planned to invest in production,” he said.

Alcala noted that the visit of the Singaporeans would have been a great opportunity to sell Mindanao as an agricultural basket.

The region’s land is fertile and it is not often hit by typhoons. It is also closer to Singapore, making cargo costs cheaper than importing vegetables from Luzon.

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Recently, Singapore businesses placed orders for semi-temperate vegetables from Cordillera and southern Luzon.

Delima said the buyers were eyeing 20 to 50 tons of vegetables from their contract growers in Luzon.

DA officials said they still hoped the buyers would reschedule their visit to Mindanao. To make up for the canceled trip, the DA instead sent them samples of the vegetables grown in the region.

The Philippine government is currently talking peace with the MILF, which has been waging a secessionist war in southern Philippines for over three decades.

The recent clashes in Basilan threatened to break a fragile ceasefire although the Aquino administration has stated it will push through with peace talks this month facilitated by Malaysia .

Aside from the MILF, a smaller but more radical Islamic rebel group, the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, is known to be behind terrorist bombings in Mindanao, reportedly with the help of regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah.

The United States has stationed military advisers in Mindanao to help combat the Abu Sayyaf threat.

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TAGS: Agriculture, Foreign Investments, Government, Insurgency
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