NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/16 June) — Every time the Gross National Product (GNP) or the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) makes a significant hike, government planners rejoice and toast to the event. Yet the man in the street is skeptical; he could not feel it.
True, new skyways are being built, for instance, to give motorists and commuters 5-10 minutes of freedom from heavy traffic. The gains, however, are immediately nullified once the skyways connect to old thoroughfares where the traffic jams are a nightmare. In Metro Manila, a distance of 10 kilometers could take 1–2 hours of travel time. In any mood, it cannot be called progress or development.
In the rural areas, some farm- to- market roads have been constructed or refurbished. Yet without capital, training and farm inputs – fertilizers, pesticides, quality seeds and water source, the physical intervention doesn’t mean much to the farmers.
The country’s economic growth is no value to many if they cannot partake of its fruits. For millions of Filipinos, the creation of jobs they badly need is the best fruit of economic growth.
For every rise in GNP, it is legitimate then to ask: Where are the jobs? Or, how many new jobs were created arising from or accompanying the GNP hike?
In a country where unemployment has always been a pernicious problem, the availability of jobs cannot be substituted for any measure of development.
The availability of domestic jobs creates a lot of miracles. Local jobs reduce the making of oppressed migrant workers in alien lands, protect their families from the curse of separation, assure food security, pull down criminality and thus improve community life for all.
Creating jobs is one of the imperatives the Bangsamoro government has to immediately attend to upon establishment. Providing gainful livelihoods to retired rebels and those economically dislocated by the age-old conflict in the area will help secure the peace. And job security minimizes backsliding and such undesirable activities that could undermine the new order.
Peace can be a function of decent and reliable sources of income. People who have stable work and who value such blessing shy generally away from troubles. They also shun potentially disastrous adventurisms that promise quick money and other forms of questionable economic and political rewards.
The Bangsamoro has so much resources waiting only for a conducive political environment to develop. With unlimited and reliable water sources, such as the Pulangi River and the Liguasan Marsh, agriculture in the place promises tremendous development potential. Crops farming like rice, corn, cassava, banana, cacao, coffee and vegetables create backward and forward linkages that can generate an assortment of jobs along production chains.
For instance, the processing of corn, cassava, banana, cacao, and coffee into various product forms requires the fabrication of machines and tools, packaging materials, ingredients, binders and many others. This, needless to say, creates more and distinct jobs for fabricators, various professionals and regular factory workers. On the other hand, the transport of the products to different destinations demands support services from operators of haulers, vessels, drivers, engineers, mechanics, and other skilled and unskilled labor.
Just let peace prevail and Lanao del Sur, with its rich culture, interesting people, and beautiful and legendary Lake Lanao, may yet turn into a huge tourist destination. The still clear and generally pristine lake and the cool and relaxing temperature around it can be home to vacation resorts and aqua-based tourism sports and activities. The exquisite brass industry of the town of Tugaya and the home-based cloth and mat weaving livelihood in some lake communities offer a culture tourism that may approximate and even surpass the arresting power of Bali, Indonesia. The jobs value chain of tourism tickles the imagination.
Meanwhile, the Liguasan Marsh is reported to be rich in fossil oil and gas deposit. This could interest foreign and local investors once the ugly shadow of war disappears from the horizon. The exploration and development of the fuel resources promises great employment opportunities.
There is resource that escapes the attention of many in Cotabato – the unstoppable, ever growing water hyacinths in Pulangi River. Studies have shown that the fibers of the aquatic plant are strong and are good material to produce quality papers. In fact, the product could even, accordingly, qualify as main component for Central Bank paper bill. Without any use at the moment, the plants simply decay and foul the environment.
Considered as nuisance by communities along Pulangi River and in the coasts of Zamboanga del Sur where tons of said floating plants are dumped by the currents during the Southwest monsoon, the same may yet earn incomes for many. A paper mill may be established in the locality buying semi-processed hyacinth fibers from families in the Pulangi area. If only to provide meaningful sources of income to the people, the government should take the lead in putting up the enterprise, after establishing, of course, its feasibility.
Given the archipelagic circumstance of our country, it is perplexing and ironic that we import mountains of salt worth several hundred millions of pesos annually.
Certainly, the demand for salt as a prime commodity cannot be gainsaid. Aside from being a very vital ingredient in the food we eat, salt has many other important uses. It is used in the production of steel, plastics, fibers and glass vital to manufacturing and the construction industry. Just to mention an example, salt constitutes 57 percent of the components of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipes used in water distribution and as electric insulators.
Moreover, salt is also used in food processing and in animal feed production. It is also the primary fertilizer to increase the yield of chlorine-deficit coconut farms.
Our huge salt import from China, India and Australia may be reduced if we can partly substitute it with local produce. The major salt-producing provinces of Pangasinan, Bulacan, Occidental Mindoro, Cavite and Zambales can, however, only deliver much. Thus the coastal folk around the archipelago may be taught the skill in making salt to augment much needed production. On the issue of capital, part of the millions unproductively spent for 4 Ps dole out may be rechanneled to training and into family-based salt production activities in appropriate areas.
Needless to say, the enterprise is socially and psychologically rewarding. For it to take off, particularly in the Bangsamoro territory, the government has to assume and frontline the collection and distribution of the product, until such time when private investors may find it profitable to take over.
The Bangsamoro province of TawiTawi has enviable comparative advantage in quality salt making. The province’s many riverless islands and long dry season (December – July) offer crystal clear and sediment and pollution-free coastal waters of critical importance in the production of high grade solar sea salt. The technology in salt-making that uses plastic sheets as matting in salt beds along the shores is recommended to spare the mangroves from being destroyed.
Annually, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is importing 800, 000 -900, 000 50kg salt bags worth P500 million from Australia to fertilize coconut farms. In a program to localize production and procurement, the PCA inked an agreement in 2014 with the provincial government of Palawan for the production of 300,000 50kg-bag salt/annum, at P300/bag purchase price. The PCA is still looking for other provinces to satisfy the balance. The Sulu and TawiTawi island may yet fill in the gap.
Indeed, the opportunities in creating jobs to help secure peace are unlimited as the imagination. One simply has to look around and inspire people to productive, satisfying and self-fulfilling action.
(Mindaviews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Dr. William R. Adan, PhD, is retired professor and former chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines)