Top Story

By Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan

Gov’t scrambles to assure over clashes

Posted on May 26, 2017

A TOP economic manager yesterday said the country’s overall economic growth promise remains intact even as government forces struggled to flush out militants still holed up in Marawi City, an incident that had prompted President Rodrigo R. Duterte to put Mindanao under martial law and to warn that he was ready to extend the regime nationwide.

“The economy is in no way threatened by the imposition of martial law. The military is in full control of the government installations and major infrastructures on the island,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, a close friend of the president, said in a press release.

“Martial law will ensure that these facilities are protected so that business transactions will be unaffected.”

While he noted that the current clashes are far from key growth centers, they could impact prospects of some of the country’s most impoverished regions that can be found in Mindanao, including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) -- the country’s poorest with a 48.2% poverty rate among families in 2015 where Marawi City is located, Caraga in northeastern Mindanao, the South Cotabato-Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Sarangani-General Santos City (Soccsksargen) region and Northern Mindanao.

“Threats of violence in the poorest regions of the country will not affect adversely the economic position of the whole country. Because the centers of commerce and sources of growth are in areas far away from the sites of potential conflict, economic expansion will not be jeopardized and economic opportunities will remain robust,” Mr. Dominguez said.

“These threats will, however, dampen the economic prospects of the poorest regions,” he admitted.

“Government plans to revive this regional economy and transform it into a meaningful participant in the country’s growth will be held in abeyance until lasting peace is attained.”

The current administration, as stated in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 approved in February and in the Investment Priorities Plan, aims to push economic development to the countryside. That strategy, in turn, aims to spur gross domestic product growth to an annual average of 7-8% in that period from the 6.2% average in the six years under the preceding government of former president Benigno S. C. Aquino III, slash unemployment rate to 3-5% by 2022 -- when the current government steps down -- from 5.5% last year and achieve its bottom line of cutting the national poverty rate to 14% also by then, from 21.6% in 2015.

Out of the 4,895 projects worth P3.6 trillion lined up in Three-Year Rolling Infrastructure Plan 2018-2020, the ARMM will get 955 projects worth P50.71 billion, Northern Mindanao will have 117 projects worth P50.32 billion, Caraga will get 66 projects worth P28.81 billion, while Soccsksargen will have 28 projects worth P7.8 billion.

Sought for comment, Al Faithrich C. Navarrete, chairman of the University of Santo Tomas Business Economics department, noted the government has been trying to contain clashes within Marawi, saying: “In a way, sine-secure niya sila (the government is securing the other areas).”

“Imposition of martial law in Mindanao ensures that the government remains in control of the situation. It’s not intended to create oppression in the region,” Mr. Navarrete said in an e-mail yesterday.

“Mindanao has always been endowed with natural resources but lacked development due to security issues,” he noted.

“If martial law will be executed successfully without abuse, this will end the armed conflict as well as increase investors’ confidence.”

For De La Salle University economist Mitzie Irene P. Conchada, however, “We have to wait and see what will happen in the next few days: if this will have an impact on the local as well as the national economy.”

Although Marawi City is Lanao del Sur’s economic hub, Mr. Dominguez noted “the threats by lawless elements are contained in areas far from Mindanao’s major business centers and the military is doing everything to minimize these.”

“Martial law in Mindanao for a limited period is intended to protect the flow of commerce, protect the innocent and eliminate future threats to the communities.”