DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 February) — Stepping up reform in Mindanao is necessary to foster inclusive growth in the country, President Benigno Aquino III said Tuesday in his speech at the closing program of the two-day Philippine Development Forum (PDF) here.
He said the reform began with the synchronization of elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the national and local elections scheduled this year.
He cited the ARMM transitional investment support plan, which allots 8.59 billion pesos for development projects, “from the construction of necessary infrastructure in transportation and health, to improving the quality of education available, to even strengthening the halal food industry.”
Aquino said the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last year was “a move that we hope will bring an end to the decades-long insurgency, and bring a final, enduring peace to Mindanao.”
The President noted the increased confidence of the international community, which he said meant that “the sincerity and effectiveness of the government’s efforts have been recognized the world over.”
“The continued presence of our international partners in the country is another sign of confidence—whatever the conditions may be, you have always been here to give assistance to our country, especially to Mindanao. In fact, it is only fitting that we are holding this Forum here today,” he said.
Aquino said Mindanao’s “untapped potential” and “unfulfilled promise” is the reason why the island’s development is “a priority for our administration.”
Motoo Konishi, PDF 2013 co-chairperson and country director of World Bank Philippines, said in his summary report to the President the forum focused on reform agenda for inclusive growth.
“Over many decades, economic growth did not benefit the majority of the population, did not create decent jobs for all, and did not lift lagging regions out of poverty. We believe this is the reason why inclusive growth is at the core of your Social Contract with the Filipino people,” Konishi said.
He said there is macroeconomic stability and the fiscal situation of the government is “sound and improving.”
He cited improvements in the budget with better prioritization, execution, monitoring and more transparency, bigger expenditures on health, education and social protection, and increasing and better infrastructure spending.
“Now is the time to accelerate and sustain the reform agenda,” he said, adding the time is right to create coalitions for reform that will be drawn from private sectors, labor, non-government organizations, civil society, and development partners.
He cited the need for coalitions “to deliver the peace dividend to the people who suffered from the conflict in Mindanao.”
Konishi said the forum’s economic development cluster saw the need for support to agriculture and tourism to create more jobs.
The cluster also recommended that critical laws such as the National Land Use Code, the Competition Policy Law and the Cabotage Law need to be enacted or reviewed to further support this agenda, he said.
“All of these would have countrywide impacts, but more so in Mindanao, which is recognized as the food basket of the country and where inclusive growth would make the greatest difference in people’s lives,” he said.
The economic cluster said there should be more stimulus funds for infrastructure development such as power, roads, and ports, to reap the dividends of peace and stability, he said.
In a press conference after the forum, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima clarified that the cluster sessions were not “pledging” sessions, but were meant to give the development partners a better idea on the priorities of the administration.
“We also got feedbacks from our development partners where they think they should focus on,” he said.
“Mindanao is clearly on the top of priorities,” he said, adding one session was devoted for the island and that the MILF was invited to the forum.
Konishi said the justice and peace cluster saw the need for a better interface between state and non-state justice institutions that will be of particular importance in Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, “where traditional systems remain the predominant forum for dispute resolution.”
“Support for the Shari’a justice system was also identified as an important priority in the context of the FAB,” he added.
Mindanao development forum
In the same press conference, Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, chair of the Mindanao Development Authority, said partnerships with foreign donors had been established during the Mindanao Development Forum (MDF) held here two days before the PDF.
But Antonino said she could not name the partners and the amount they had pledged.
She said some of the donors had shown interest in river basin management.
She added the United Nations and European Union have helped in early recovery programs for displaced communities in Mindanao. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)