Anyone not from Mindanao will likely find it odd, perhaps even odious, that there’s all this talk about the island-community finally getting a fair shake with the advent of the new administration. The President is from Davao, a small, heavily-accented population whose aspirations aren’t far off from its neighbors’ — that is, some semblance of equality in terms of economic opportunity and political self-determination.
As far back as I can remember, there’s always been a common unease — call it a restiveness — over the enduring contradiction: A “Land of Promise” that has sadly remained so. Scholars have blamed a host of reasons for this backwardness. A never-ending conflict, the misfortune of being a mere raw materials provider, an export-oriented agriculture, patronage politics that has entrenched itself even among Mindanao’s politicians, and brazen neglect from the national government.
There may be other factors for the island’s continuing underdevelopment. But that last one appears to be the mother of all reasons; everything else emanates from the tragic fact of being disfavored and deliberately cast away.
This was the situation that Fidel Ramos faced when he became president in 1992. And this was the rationale for the creation of the Office of the President-Mindanao (OPMin), of which I was a part, and the Mindanao Economic Development Council, the precursor of what is now the Mindanao Development Authority.
It was those two agencies that 1) opened Mindanao’s borders to the world via the trailblazing East Asean Growth Area and 2) sought to connect the island through an extensive arterial road network. The EAGA began in fits and starts, but in its heyday it animated trade and tourism missions across the subregion and generated substantial revenues from the fledgling markets. And by the time Ramos stepped down in 1998, some 700 kilometers of roads had been paved across the island, an unprecedented feat against the cumulative accomplishments of the previous administrations.
But the motivating philosophy of OPMin and the Medco were what we then referred to as the “dehado graphs,” or the carefully-researched facts and figures that conveyed just how far behind Mindanao was compared to its counterparts, mostly in Luzon.
Consider the following realities, culled from the Ramos years:
Because of the bias in apportioning critical funds, only 65 percent of Mindanao residents had access to potable water. It was worse in Muslim Mindanao, where only 29 percent of its residents enjoyed water they could safely drink.
Also in the ARMM, only 34 percent of the people had electricity in their homes.
In Sulu, there was only one doctor for every 22,820 persons.
The socio-economic indicators in those areas were so depressing that respected groups like the Philippine Business for Social Progress referred to them as “the second, poorer Mindanao.”
Across the island, 72 out of 1,000 children died before reaching the age of five. This accounted for the highest under-five mortality rate in the entire country.
In education, Mindanao’s simple functional literacy rate had languished at 75.36 percent, compared to Luzon’s 86 percent and the Visayas’ 92 percent.
Mindanao contributes half of the country’s Gross National Product, yet in 1996 it received only nine percent of official development assistance funds, compared to more than 27 percent for the National Capital Region.
I am not privy to the new figures today, and it would be good to be apprised of an island-wide situation that is substantially better.
But in April 2011, it was reported that “of Mindanao’s 959,020 hectares of irrigable land, only 368,382 has. are served by existing irrigation systems.” Then-NIA Administrator Antonio Nangel was quoted to have said that Mindanao “still has more than 600,000 hectares of idle irrigable land, which is more than enough to achieve the country’s (rice) food self-sufficiency if developed.”
It seems there’s still a lot on the plate of President Duterte. Would that every Filipino, Mindanawon or not, help reverse unfair trends, right historical wrongs, and truly rebuild this nation.