"So much more is needed to interconnect Mindanao to increase productivity," Undersecretary Virgilio Leyretana, Mindanao Economic Development Council chair, said in an interview with business reporters.
Leyretana, who stressed he was airing a personal view, cited the need to build roads, bridges, ports and harbors around Mindanao.
He said the infrastructure in Mindanao still lags behind that of Luzon and the Visayas.
Mindanao is supposed to get 30 percent of the budget for infrastructure, but it is only getting 19 percent, he explained.
Leyretena described Mindanao as the future of the country because of its strategic location, rich natural resources, increasing population and a multi-ethnic demography.
"If we need to identify Mindanao as the agribusiness center, then the requirements are physical infrastructure or more to spur development between the rural and urban centers," he said.
He said as long as infrastructure in Mindanao is not developed, there will be perpetuation of imbalance with Metro Manila and the rest of the country.
He said the imbalance is still there and there is a need to decongest Metro Manila, citing one of President Arroyo's development agenda.
He cited the need to rationalize the budget considering the needs of other areas in the quest for higher budget for Mindanao.
He said it also takes at least three to five years for the investment to bear fruit.
Leyretana, however, said that the absorption capacity of implementing agencies is also a factor in considering infrastructure investments.
"The bottom line is the absorptive capacity, including the capability to deliver," he said.
He said based on a review of the budget, there were a lot of unexpended appropriations in Mindanao in the previous years.
He cited an effort to re-streamline the budgeting process to ensure delivery of projects.
He said the measure will be advantageous to Mindanao, as it will draw attention to the need for convergence mechanisms like MEDCO, which is absent in other areas.
He said absorptive capacity could be addressed with efforts towards convergence and with capability-building initiatives for local governments.
He cited a cut in the cost of transportation between Metro Manila and the provinces with the initial success of the “roll on-roll off” transportation system. But he cited the need for more sea ports and airports.
He also cited the need to review the Mindanao Framework Development Plan 2000 formulated in 1998 to attune it with present conditions.
Leyretana said Mindanao is still in the backwater decades after the government declared it was prioritizing the island.
He lamented that the government has been hampered by the personality-focused political system in institutionalizing equitable development programs in the country. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)