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By Marifi S. Jara, Mindanao Bureau Chief
THE BUSINESS SECTOR in Mindanao has passed a resolution listing shelters in Marawi City and two big-ticket power facilities as the top infrastructure projects that they want government to prioritize for completion.
In the recommendation passed by 32 business chambers during the annual Mindanao Business Conference (MinBizCon) on Sept. 23-24, the shelter projects under the Marawi rehabilitation program were identified as top priorities, followed by the Mindanao-Visayas grid interconnection project, and rehabilitation of the Agus and Pulangi hydropower plants.
They also pushed for the completion of the Mindanao railway, Laguindingan airport expansion, and Panguil Bay Bridge, as well as the improvement of night landing and runway facilities of secondary airports across Mindanao.
Perfecto F. Mayor, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) regional governor for central Mindanao who presented the MinBizCon resolutions, said these are “strategic infrastructure projects” that are crucial to boosting Mindanao’s contribution to national growth and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Mindanao-Visayas grid interconnection, which will integrate Mindanao’s power supply into the national grid, was originally targeted for completion by December 2020. It was delayed due to pandemic restrictions and submarine cable damage, according to the Department of Energy.
The Agus-Pulangi rehabilitation, meanwhile, is still undergoing feasibility study.
From the perspective of foreign investors, Davao-based Japanese Consul General Yoshiaki Miwa said the government should address infrastructure and connectivity to improve the supply chain at the production level as well as the export process.
“Japanese companies operating in Mindanao… they always mention the expensive electricity supply, also expensive foreign ocean freight, and discouraging to get some parts or materials,” he said during the MinBizCon.
He also cited the need to promote the “perception on Mindanao” as a full value chain player rather than just a raw material supplier.
“These kinds of things should be solved through the improvement of infrastructure.”
On Marawi, Housing Secretary Eduardo D. Del Rosario reported last week that public structures under the war-torn city’s rehabilitation were “75% to 80% complete” and were on track to be completed before the end of the Duterte administration in June next year.
Mr. Del Rosario, who heads the task force managing the rebuilding of Marawi, also said about 2,800 permanent housing units in resettlement sites are expected to be completed by end-2021.
However, tension persists for those who will have to repair or rebuild their own homes in the city as the proposed law that will provide compensation remains pending in Congress.
“On Oct. 1, 2021, Congress will adjourn. If the Marawi Compensation Bill is not passed, we will be commemorating yet another anniversary of the so-called ‘Marawi Liberation Day’ on Oct. 17 without a Marawi Compensation Law that would help us, victims of war, rebuild our lives,” said the multi-sector group Marawi Reconstruction Conflict Watch during a Senate joint committee hearing last Friday.
They also reiterated the warning that “criminal and extremist groups can tap these frustrations to heighten anti-government sentiments among local communities that could be used to recruit members and rally their support.”
Meanwhile, agricultural innovation was also a focal point of discussion at the two-day event given Mindanao’s position as a major food producer for both domestic consumption and export.
“Mindanao’s agriculture contributes a third of the country’s agriculture gross value added and I believe that this can be significantly increased by addressing such issues as low productivity, access to finance, and improvement of infrastructure,” said Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Benedicto V. Yujuico.
Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar, for his part, said the modernization and growth of the agri-fisheries sector in Mindanao will need private sector contribution.
“The government is fully prepared to continue investing in Mindanao’s future, but government alone cannot finance Mindanao’s long-term progress. The island region’s private sector — its entrepreneurs and business leaders — must continue to make significant investments… especially in those places where investments are most needed,” Mr. Dar said.