DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 September) — Former South Cotabato Rep. Luwalhati Antonino today assumed the chairmanship of the Mindanao
Development Authority (MinDA) with an appeal to the public to “give us a chance to show our worth.”
Antonino is the second chair of the seven-month old office that was created by Republic Act 9996 to “promote, coordinate and facilitate the active and extensive participation of all sectors to effect the socioeconomic development of Mindanao.” “Given the extent of imperatives for Mindanao, we need to fast-track so that we catch-up with the development needs. President Aquino has underscored the importance of Mindanao in his overall agenda for national development and that is why we need to unite, cross party lines, and rally behind as one Mindanao,” she said towards the end of her four-page speech.
Antonino’s appointment sparked controversy over questions on her academic qualifications and her alleged “anti-Moro” stance.
In 1996, Antonino rose to national fame or notoriety – depending on which side of the fence one was in – as one of three women leaders
(with Zamboanga Rep. Maria Clara Lobregat and South Cotbato 2nd district Rep. Daisy Avance-Fuentes) collectively known as “Tres
Marias.” The three led protest action against the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), the transitory implementing
mechanism for the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in preparation for what would have been an expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim
Antonino said a similar question was asked of her last week in Congress and “a Muslim congressman defended me.”
She quoted Congressman (Pangalian) Balindong (2nd district, Lanao del Sur), as saying, “She was only fighting for principle and she was only
fighting one Muslim, Nur Misuari.” “It was the principle of the creation of the SPCPD,” she told a press conference after the brief turnover rites, explaining that General Santos City residents had repeatedly been saying they should not be included in the proposed SPCPD.”
Antonino said she has no biases against the Moro. “Ask my constituents in District 1 of South Cotabato. Ask my Muslim constituents there.”
In the brief turnover rites witnessed by representatives of various sectors, Dureza said he was honored by “your full support” and asked them to “please extend the same support, if not more, to the new chair.”
Dureza handed over to Antonino a copy of the MedCo-MinDA transition report and a symbolic MinDA flag.
Before the law creating MinDA, the office was referred to as Mindanao Economic Development Council or MEDCo..
In her four-page acceptance speech, Antonino said “our immediate priorities for Mindanao include support to the peace process, and
ensuring sustainable and equitable growth particularly targeting the vulnerable areas and sectors in Mindanao.”
She said she spoke with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita “Ging” Deles on Tuesday “and laid down the areas we need to push together in providing for the environment necessary for the peace process to prosper.”
Deles, who graced the turnover rites, said they discussed, among others, good governance, development, catch-up programs and
sustainable development in Mindanao.
“The conflict-affected areas will not be left behind,” she said. Antonino said they will “continue to take advantage of the strengthened partnership that we have with the development agencies in pushing for programs and projects that impact highly on peace.”
Antonino noted that achieving peace in Mindanao is a “challenge that we shall continue to pursue in collaboration with the Christian
leaders, Muslim groups, Indigenous peoples, non-government and civil society organizations.”
“Give us a chance to show our worth,” she said, adding MinDA will “open the lines to everyone.”
She urged the public to speak up in whatever form, even through the internet, “so we can act or not act on the things you will say.”
Antonino also said she will “make sure there is no turf war here.”
“In areas where there is conflict, we (will) talk,” she said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)