PNOY tackles peace, power woes at Mindanao biz summit

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/08 August)—Even before President Benigno Aquino III delivered his 15-minute speech for the 22nd Mindanao Business Conference (MinBizCon) Thursday, he already knew what to address as the island’s businessmen provided him with their eight-point business policy agenda beforehand.

The President basically broke the tradition of the MinBizCon when he addressed the business summit during the opening instead of the last day.

Since the event was launched in 1992, resolutions were submitted on the last day of the summit to the national government or the President, after the delivery of a speech, giving the leader no chance to address the concern of the island’s business sector squarely right before the audience.

This time Aquino had the luxury of time to study the priority concerns of Mindanao’s business sector as he was provided ahead with a copy of their eight-point policy agenda, and some of the island’s business leaders appeared satisfied with what they heard from the President.

Aquino talked lengthily about peace and security and the power supply problem facing the island, although he did not forget to mention about agriculture, tourism and infrastructure development initiatives for the area.

“The first issue—the obvious issue—we needed to address was peace and security. After all, any real progress must be built on the bedrock of peace,” he stressed.

Aquino said that for the past 40 years, thousands of families in Mindanao have been displaced and, at times, even harmed by skirmishes.

“It was vital for us to achieve lasting peace and stability in Mindanao so that those affected by the tensions could get their lives back, so that they could hold steady jobs, so that businesses—both big and small—could focus on efficiency and innovation instead of just worrying for their safety; all this with the greater vision of inclusive growth for all Mindanaoans,” he said.

“But peace—vital as it is—is only one part of the equation. From the onset, we had also identified a problem in the region’s power sector—one that needed to be addressed to guarantee growth,” the President said.

However, peace, a longstanding concern for the island’s business sector was not among the eight-point business policy agenda that summit organizers submitted to the President.

Their eight-point policy agenda specifically covers the power sector, agriculture, tourism, transport and logistics, the small and medium enterprises, information and communications technology, skills development and mining.

“As much as we wanted to, we could not solve this problem overnight. Two hundred megawatts of power cannot be bought in a corner hardware store,” Aquino said, adding that it takes at least three years to build a coal-fired power plant.

He noted the government had “enacted structural changes necessary to attract more investors in the power sector in Mindanao.”

“Right now, we are on track to end the energy deficit by 2015—during which we foresee Mindanao to already have a surplus,” Aquino said.

Ricardo Juliano, MinBizCon 2013 conference chairman and Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice president for Mindanao, said they were satisfied with what they heard from the President.

“While some of what the President said were generalities, the specifics would be addressed by the concerned Cabinet secretaries that we invited,” he told MindaNews.

According to Juliano, conference organizers were satisfied by the speech of the President because he responded mostly to the issues that they submitted to him a few days before the conference.

“What‘s good is the President’s advocacy on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB),” Datu Haron Bandila, chair of the ARMM Business Council, said in a text message.

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the FAB on October 15, 2012 in Malacanang.

“Both sides of the tension are conscious of the fact that conflict is a road that leads nowhere. Hence, all of us made a commitment to putting the arms away, truly engaging in dialogue, and once again putting trust in one another. Now, the MILF and the government have a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Just last month, both sides signed the second annex of the agreement; and I am confident that more good news will arrive soon,” Aquino said.

Bandila was hoping the President would discuss the Cabotage Law, which he did not.

“Freight charges [for ships] from Manila to Mindanao are expensive,” Bandila lamented.

Aquino also discussed the 2015 ASEAN Economic Integration. The 22nd MinbizCon carries the theme “Moving towards ASEAN Business Integration.”

The President said that government has been exerting efforts to prepare Mindanao for the ASEAN integration.

“The vision here is also to create a Mindanao that can compete within the ASEAN community—this is a vision that, with government and private sector initiatives, as well as continuing solidarity, can surely be achieved; and we believe our projects are doing precisely that,” he said.

‘Many firsts’

Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, chair of the Mindanao Development Authority, noted that this year’s MinBizCon is unique from the past conferences.

“It comes with a couple of firsts—first to be graced by a President after almost 10 years and with the most number of Cabinet secretaries in attendance,” she said.

At least a dozen Cabinet secretaries and senior government officials have been invited to serve as resource persons in the event hosted by the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc.

Antonino said the event will help prepare Mindanao’s private sector for the ASEAN integration.

“Mindanao certainly stands to benefit from these opportunities under a regime of greater ASEAN integration given its geographic location as well as its competitive advantages. In fact the Brunei, Indonesia Malaysia and Philippines growth area, where Mindanao is a major player, has provided the building blocks for connectivity, cross border economic interchange and create harmonization,” she said.

Antonino said that to effectively steer Mindanao to the ASEAN economy, there is a need to enhance its economic competiveness with infrastructure support, provide access to credit to SMEs, improve policy environment that is conducive for business growth and lay the foundation for a lasting peace.

“If we want Mindanao to achieve a high level of growth and tangible progress it will take all of us to the task of realizing it,” she said. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)