Arroyo signed into law House Bill 2976, or the Act extending utilization of the ACEF. This new law amended Republic Act 8178, the law on the quantitative import restrictions.
The signing was witnessed by some 300 town mayors in Mindanao who gathered at the Grand Regal Hotel here for their first Mindanao Cluster Conference of the League of Municipalities.
Former Agriculture Secretary and now Sen. Edgardo Angara, the principal author of the law, and Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra, a co-author, also witnessed the signing.
Ms Arroyo said the new law requires the collection of the tariff on all agriculture imports and added that the collected funds would be plowed directly into the Acef. She said estimates would place the collections at P6 billion. She promised local government executives in Mindanao "that 30 percent of this P6 billion would be
given to Mindanao.”
"That would mean that almost P2 billion would be given to Mindanao in lump sum, being the country's food basket," she said. She added that this amount would spur further activities in the agricultural sector and boost the position of the island as the agribusiness super region, along with Northern Luzon.
"The amount would go to finance agricultural activities such as irrigation, farm to market roads and other infrastructure," she said. She said government would like to build 2,000 kilometers of roads and four major irrigation projects, one for each quarter, in Mindanao.
The Acef, she said, will help alleviate the conditions of farmers "especially here in Mindanao, where seven of ten poorest provinces in the country are located. "Through this Acef, the benefits and services of the program will now return to the people to improve their daily lives," she said.
Arroyo said the Acef would complement her administration's effort to strengthen the super region that she announced in her State of the Nation Address two years ago. She said Mindanao and Northern Luzon, the two agribusiness regions, would be the site of massive infrastructure spending, including the so-called "no-frills agricultural airports and piers.”
"Infrastructure is very important to ensure that there is food, and this can be done through production and rapid transport to the market," she said.
Pres. Arroyo also announced earlier this month in Tagum, Davao del Norte that her government would embark on massive infrastructure spending to cushion the global economic slowdown. She said the spending would start in the first quarter.
Mayor Ramon Abalos of Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat, president of the League of Municipalities in Mindanao, said that they were ready to take the challenge of Pres. . Arroyo to lead their constituents "in ensuring that there is development, especially to our small farmers, so that there will be lasting peace in Mindanao".
"We are ready to assume that role as we have been doing that as frontliners in economic development," he said.
The League of Municipalities in Mindanao presented President Arroyo a "manifesto of support" for her leadership. (MindaNews)