The declaration of Martial Law in the whole of Mindanao is a political issue which certainly has nothing to do with my job as Secretary of Agriculture.
As a son of Mindanao, however, I believe I have to share my thoughts and my stand on this burning issue of the day.
President Rody Duterte has made a correct and timely decision.
Placing the whole of Mindanao under Martial Law comes just in the nick of time.
In fact, when the Abu Sayyaf was rampaging all over the Southern Islands and beheading the hostages, government should have acted right away and held the bull by its horns.
People who say that there is no need to declare Martial Law because the Extremist Group which attacked Marawi City over the weekend is just a puny band of terrorists who could be handled by the military fail to look at the bigger problem besetting the country’s richest southern islands.
Consider this: Eight of the country’s 10 poorest provinces are in Mindanao with Lanao del Sur, where the ISIS-inspired Maute Group is operating now, topping the list with a scandalous 74.3% Poverty Incidence Per Family (PIPF) followed by Abu Sayyaf territory Sulu Province with 65.7%.
The six others are Sarangani – 61.7%; Maguindanao 59.4%; Bukidnon – 58.7%; Sultan Kudarat – 56.2%; Zamboanga del Norte – 56.1%; and Agusan del Sur – 54.8%.
Three more Mindanao provinces, including my home province North Cotabato which slid back from 29% in 2009 to 48.9% in the latest survey; Lanao del Norte with 50% and Zamboanga Sibugay with 44.9% complete the list of 11 Mindanao provinces included in the ignominious Club 20, the poorest provinces of the Philippines.
What are the common denominators in these areas?
The first would be the presence of armed groups, from Islamic Extremists to Communist Groups, Kidnap for Ransom Groups and Private Armed Groups controlled by politicians.
The second would be unchecked corruption among local officials many of whom treat their Internal Revenue Allocation (IRA), which is the local government’s share from the national revenue, as their own private resources.
Third is the total absence of governance where local executives reside outside of their areas and the continued proliferation of illegal drugs which are suspected to be manufactured in areas where armed groups operate.
These problems have stunted the growth of this very rich island which has the resources to feed the whole country and to produce world-class quality agricultural products which would contribute to the growth of this country.
Just recently, I met with officials of an international tobacco corporation and they reported that the tobaccos they are producing in Claveria, Misamis Oriental now are world class and export quality.
Cavendish bananas could only be grown in their best quality in the fertile soil of Mindanao while the Sulu Seas are teeming with fish literally dying of boredom because fishermen are afraid to venture into Abu Sayyaf territory.
President Duterte knows these potentials having been a Mindanao Mayor himself but for so long, he was caught between his desire to avoid bloodshed and his dream of improving the lot of the people of Mindanao.
In my many conversations with him, even before he decided to run for President, he intimated his desire to help resolve the problems peacefully.
The recent attack by the Maute Group in Marawi City which closely followed the failed kidnapping foray of the Abu Sayyaf in Bohol, however, was the straw the broke the camel’s back.
President Duterte knows that the monsters who have long created chaos in Mindanao are rearing their heads and threatening the whole country.
I fully support President Duterte’s declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao and further recommend that the following actions be undertaken:
1. All armed groups, except those who have agreed to talk peace with government especially the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which has publicly condemned the Marawi attack, should be disarmed and disbanded, including the private armies of the political warlords in the islands;
2. Village chiefs, mayors and even Governors of the poorest areas and those facing charges of corruption should be asked to step down and replaced in accordance with the laws with competent leaders.
When these two measures are done, the national government could implement a massive rehabilitation and reconstruction, including an intensive capability building program for young leaders who are expected to take the management of these areas in the future.
President Duterte can do this and when he does, he will be remembered by the people of this country as the only leader who has the will and the determination to bite the bullet and clean up the mess.