The Mindanao Development Authority is hoping to get a P1.35-trillion allocation in the 2022 national budget. — COURTESY OF DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS

By Marifi S. Jara, Mindanao Bureau Chief

THE MINDANAO Development Authority (MinDA) will push for a P1.35-trillion allocation in the 2022 national budget, representing 27% of the proposed P5-trillion spending plan, to realize major infrastructure and other projects.

“Mindanao has been getting a share that is lower than expected. In the last four years and a half, our highest share was last year at 16%. For 2021, Mindanao will only be getting 12%,” MinDA Chair Emmanuel F. Piñol said during the Mindanao Speaks Up forum on Wednesday.

The P1.35-trillion amount was originally put forward by MinDA in 2018 for allocation over a four-year period beginning 2019.

“We have always been labeled as the ‘Land of Promise,’ but unfortunately, Mindanao has always been getting the least budget,” said Abdulghani Ajul Salapuddin, chair of the government-owned and -controlled corporation Southern Philippines Development Authority and a former congressman.

“I had been in Congress for nine years, and we fought so hard for an equitable share, and by equitable, it does not mean equal but what is needed and just (for Mindanao’s development),” Mr. Salapuddin said.

Among the planned major projects that have yet to get off the ground are the Mindanao Railway’s first segment, Samal-Davao bridge, and private-public partnerships for the expansion of airports in the main cities of Cagayan de Oro and Davao.

The six Regional Development Council heads of Mindanao also presented their respective lists of proposed projects, including those that are either pending or delayed.

Mindanao is composed of the regions of Zamboanga Peninsula (9), Northern Mindanao (10), Davao (11), Soccsksargen (12), Caraga (13), and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In 2019, Mindanao collectively accounted for 16.6% of the national output, based on the Philippine Statistics Authority’s rebased regional accounts. Davao and Northern Mindanao had the highest contributions at 4.6% and 4.5%, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), which co-organized the forum, will also file a resolution asking President Rodrigo R. Duterte to declare idle public lands in the country’s south as areas for the development of special economic zones.

PEZA Director General Charito B. Plaza said this would be in line with the President’s Administrative Order No. 18 issued in 2019, which aims to fast-track countryside development through ecozones.

Ms. Plaza said different types of ecozones — such as food processing, agro-industrial, medicine, apparel, tourism, and information technology —  can be developed in Mindanao based on the available resources in the different regions.

There are currently 37 ecozones in Mindanao, with 17 in Davao, 10 in Northern Mindanao, eight in Soccsksargen, and one each in Zamboanga and Caraga. Of these, 12 are agro-industrial, 15 IT parks, eight manufacturing, and one tourism.

The PEZA head also said the plan is to develop these special investor areas as  “smart” and “green” hubs.

“Let us not be arrogant that our government can provide the jobs that our population needs… we need investors, we need capital and we are competing with the rest of the world who are giving incentives to investors,” Ms. Plaza said in mixed English and Visayan.

“In basketball terms, we are in the last two minutes of our first Mindanaon President’s term and we need to do our best to deliver for our fellow Filipinos and the Philippines,” she added.

Private sector representatives, including regional officers of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, generally aired disappointment during the forum even as they reaffirmed continued support to the government’s programs.

Ruben A. Vegafria, Cagayan de Oro business chamber president, said, “The share of Mindanao on agriculture, transport and DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) are itself very depressing.”

Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, who comes from the Mindanao province of Bukidnon, assured legislative support for next year’s budget and other resolutions put forward at the multi-stakeholder gathering. “It’s not too late,” Mr. Zubiri said.