DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 February) – The two-day Philippine Development Forum (PDF) that started Monday morning s focusing on Mindanao development as government sees the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) as a step forward to peace and prosperity in southern Philippines.
Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said development partners gathered at the Marco Polo hotel here are aware of the potentials of Mindanao.
“The reason they’re here is they want to know how they can help. I hope that after this forum our development partners will have a clearer picture on how they can help in the development,” he told reporters.
This is the first time the PDF is being held in Mindanao.
Balisacan said the PDF is an attempt to consolidate what were achieved with development partners in the last two years, and how to face the challenges in the last three years of the Aquino administration.
President Aquino will deliver the closing statement Tuesday noon, after listening to the recommendations.
Balisacan said peace is one of the major concerns in Mindanao and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has a long way in addressing the concern.
“We are very optimistic about Mindanao’s contribution to national development, particularly in agribusiness, tourism and halal industries,” he said.
He told reporters that each cluster in the PDF will recommend top three priority areas that the government should pay attention to.
The clusters are Good Governance and Anti-Corruption, Human Development and Poverty Reduction, Justice and Peace, Climate Change and Mitigation and Economic Development. A sub-cluster on Infrastructure will also meet.
But Balisacan said he did not want to preempt these priority areas as the sessions were still going on.
“The government is mindful of the opportunities and challenges, as we move forward with the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement,” he added.
Balisacan cited that the critical constraints to investments that need to be addressed are high power cost, poor infrastructure, policy inconsistencies and administrative inefficiencies.
He said the infrastructure bottlenecks in the region, such as power, connectivity of the various provinces and regions in Mindanao are some of the major concerns.
“Currently, 60 percent of the country’s GDP is concentrated in three regions in Luzon. This shows that we have yet to tap the full potential of other regions, especially those in Mindanao,” he said.
“Our policy priorities must ensure that our people in the rest of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao benefit from growth,” he said.
“We need to connect these regions to facilitate access to markets and basic services,” he added.
While the rest of Luzon has the advantage of proximity to the fastest growing regions, the strategy in the Visayas is to strengthen its comparative advantage in tourism, fisheries, ship-building and information and communication technology, Balisacan explained.
He added that there is a need to improve the efficiency of public investment to serve as a catalyst for greater private sector participation in the economy.
Some 300 participants are attending the forum, among them representatives from international partners such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Australian Agency for International Development, United States Agency for International Development, Japan International Cooperation Agency, and Asian Development Bank.
Observers in the PDF include representatives from eight European and Canadian embassies.
Motoo Konishi, PDF co-chair and Philippine director of the World Bank, said in his opening statement that the PDF’s special focus on Mindanao allows them to integrate into the discussions the development challenges of the region, which is critical for the country’s overall development.
“With the signing of a Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro, the world’s attention is drawn to the needs of not just Muslim Mindanao, but the region as a whole. It is significant that we are holding the PDF in Mindanao, right after the Mindanao Development Forum,” he added.
The Mindanao Development Forum was also held here on February 1.
Outside the Marco Polo, some 30 protesters staged a picket at the Freedom Park fronting the hotel, carrying placards that said “Junk VFA (GPH-US Visiting Forces Agreement), “Tinuoray nga relief dili Balikatan!” (Genuine relief, not Balikatan).
Sheena Duazo, Bayan Southern Mindanao spokesperson, said the forum is discussing “nothing but how to systematically exploit what little natural resources is still left in our country, especially here in Mindanao… and how to enforce it in such a way as to coincide with the frequent unsolicited stopovers of the US Military under the Visiting Forces Agreement,” she added. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews)