It was more than a meeting that sought to provide solutions to the lingering problems related to rebuilding Marawi City.
The Mindanao Investments Forum, which was held at the Marco Polo hotel in Ortigas Center was meant to brief investors, stakeholders and the general public of the economic and investment opportunities in the Mindanao region. The emphasis was that bringing economic development to Mindanao in general would also mean improving conditions in Marawi City.
DREAM FOR MINDANAO
It was a meeting of minds with the goal of transforming President Rodrigo Duterte’s dream of a peaceful and economically vibrant Mindanao into a reality.
The Mindanao Investment Forum was a show of support for the President’s belief in “Mindanao’s great economic potential.”
In a report by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), the President said his administration was “aggressively pursuing infrastructure projects in Mindanao.”
The government, Duterte said, was actively providing assistance in the production of high value crops, development of agricultural products and marketing of its goods, among others to secure Mindanao’s important role as the country’s food basket.
Duterte also noted that his administration’s efforts to promote business, trade and investment in Mindanao would be in vain if there was no stability and order in the island.
As for Marawi City, the PIA report quoted the President as saying that the government was “expediting preparatory works for the implementation of the Marawi City Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Plan.”
These points by the President were emphasized by the various speakers during the Mindanao Investment Forum in Ortigas Center.
Among the speakers who shared their knowledge and insights on Marawi’s and Mindanao’s economic development were Mayor Majul Gandamra of Marawi City, Trade and Industry Assistant Secretary Abudlgani Macatoman, Defense Undersecretary Cesar Yano, Mindanao Development Authority (MINDA) Secretary Datu Abul Khayr Dangcal Alonto, Assistant Secretary Avelino Tolentino III of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), Lemuel Ortonio of the Davao Investment Promotion Center, Yek Lai Fatt of YLF Contracts and Cost Solutions, Jettson P. Yu of Prime Philippines, and architect and urban planner Felino “Jun’ Palafox Jr.
Yu, who was the founder and managing director of Prime Philippines, said: “Together with some investors from China, Manila and Malaysia, we visited Marawi last November.”
Yu explained that National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made their visit possible.
“We met with several key people during our stay, including the mayor of Marawi himself, Mayor Majul,” Yu added. “We met with members of Task Force Bangon Marawi to have a better understanding of Marawi.”
Yu briefed those at the meeting of what his group learned.
VIEW OF MARAWI
According to Yu, the city was considered as one of the most populous urban centers in the Autonomous Region of Muslim with a population of over 200,000 people.
“Of the 96 baranggays in Marawi, more than 40 were affected in the fighting,” Yu said. “Currently, the main businesses in Marawi City are agriculture and trade.”
“Trading is the biggest source of revenue for many residents of Marawi,” he said, adding that there was now a strong demand in the city for hardware stores and shops that sell basic necessities such as food, clothing and other home essentials.”
Yu informed the audience that he was able to get a “firm commitment” with one of his investors to build a new marketplace in the city.
As for agri-businesses in the city, Yu explained that it accounts for about 40% of the city’s economic activity. He noted that it was a city of mainly entrepreneurs and traders with only 15% of the city’s population as employed.
He described this as offering a huge opportunity for industrial companies who were looking for a healthy labor pool.
Yu added that he was also talking with investors in China and Malaysia who were looking for opportunities to build a halal manufacturing plant and other industrial facilities in the city.
According to Yu, Marawi has a need for trade centers and at least one budget hotel, small scale food processing plants, and at least one cold storage plant.
Yu emphasized that Marawi’s redevelopment gave the city the opportunity to tap into the international halal market, which was worth $3 trillion.
“We think Marawi City has all the advantages to spearhead the development of a halal food processing industry in Mindanao,” Yu said.
Yu explained that the fighting in Marawi had “little to no effect” in Davao City’s economy.
Davao City, he noted, was more than 150 kilometers by air and nearly 290 kilometers by land from Marawi.
DTI’S PLANS AND PROJECTS
“This gathering will facilitate better understanding and more engagement of the different areas involved with the development of the Maranaw and the entire Mindanao,” Assistant Secretary Abdulgani C. Macatoman said during the business forum. “Our presentation today will provide clear snapshots of the different programs under Task Force Bangon Marawi together with the ongoing initiatives that the Department of Trade and Industry has created for the people of Marawi.”
Macatoman admitted that the Marawi siege had created a lot of problems that his department needed to address.
“It will be difficult but we remain confident that we can overcome,” he said.
He explained that the DTI has initiated several consultations that allowed stakeholders in the city to bring forward their concerns which allowed the government to discover “areas of opportunities and points of improvements.”
“Insuring communications between stakeholders is vital to promote the drivers of growth,” Macatoman explained.
In order to keep the prices of basic goods in Marawi under control, he said that the DTI had initiated price monitoring of the city’s remaining marketplaces and had deployed the DTI’s rolling discount stores to ensure the availability of low priced goods in the city.
The DTI, he added, had also made available loans for small business corporations.
These loans, he emphasized, were Sharia compliant loans made possible through the assistance of Amanah Islamic Bank to regenerate businesses and livelihoods in Marawi.
Macatoman confirmed Yu’s view that the Marawi can tap the international halal industry and market, which was worth around $3 trillion.
The Trade and Industry official explained that the government can encourage and support the development of small and medium enterprises that can produce halal food and personal care products.
The DTI, he added, can help promote and integrate Marawi’s medium and small businesses with the international and mainstream halal market.
Pushing for the economic development of Mindanao, he pointed out, was one way to help promote peace in the troubled island.
“Do you know what is better than charity, fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between peoples as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind,” Macatoman said. “May this be our guiding principle.”
Defense Undersecretary Cesar B. Yano, expressed his gratitude to Yu’s company for organizing the Mindanao Investment Forum.
Speaking on behalf of Defense Secretary Lorenzana, Yano said: “Amidst the ongoing rehabilitation of Marawi and the martial law extension in the whole of Mindanao, the island remains safe for business.”
According to Yano, there were around 5,000 soldiers securing Marawi City.
“The presence of the military there is to support Task Force Bangon Marawi,” Yano explained. “We are making sure that the rehabilitation of Marawi is unhampered.”
He then called on an aide to give an official DND (Department of National Defense) briefing on the security situation in Mindanao.
According to the DND briefing, the primary security threats in the Mindanao were coming from the Abu Sayyaf Group, Dawiah Islamiyah, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and communist terrorist groups or CTG.
There were also armed organizations that the DND described as “peace inclined groups.” These were the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“These are considered as non-hostile entities due to their role in pursuing the peace process,” the DND said. “This briefing will discuss the current threat situation affecting peace and order in Mindanao.”
According to the briefing, communist terrorist groups were an imminent threat to the eastern part of Mindanao with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA) comprising the bulk of the CTG’s by 47%.
“Of the total NPA initiated violent incidents nationwide, 63% transpired in Mindanao,” the DND added. “As for this year alone, the NPA accounted for 34 atrocities.”
“Moreover, the CTG’s continue to target moneyed individuals and businesses, specifically plantations, mining companies as well as contractors, as part of their extortion-related schemes,” the DND said.
Such extortion activities occurred in Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, North Cotabato, South Cotabato and Sarangani.
“It is still evident that the armed struggle in Mindanao is relatively strong when compared to those in Luzon or the Visayas. As of the end of 2017, of the 14 active provinces, in terms of communist insurgency, 10 are in Mindanao,” the briefing noted.
However, since the CPP/NPA was branded as a terrorist organization plus the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and the intensified military operations, there had been an increase in the number of CPP/NPA members who have surrendered.
“In particular, 115 regular members and 754 support elements surrendered to the government since January of this year,” the DND briefing emphasized.
As for the Abu Sayyaf Group, the DND noted that due to the focused nature of military operations in ASG areas of concentration, ASG initiated violent incidents have been on the downtrend, the DND said.
A big factor in the decline of the ASG was the trilateral cooperation operations conducted by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in the tri-border areas, the DND added.
The strength of Dawiah Islamiyah, according to the DND, have “significantly decreased” after the Marawi siege.
“This is due to the government’s efforts in Marawi City which resulted in the neutralization of their members and the recovery of firearms owned by Maute Group members,” the DND said. “However, there are efforts by the group to rebuild. This can be gleaned by the recent recruitment and training activities in the Lanao provinces conducted by the remnants of the Maute Group. Their trainers include foreign and local terrorists.”
“Also, the group continues with their propaganda efforts using social media to reach a wider audience,” the DND said.
After the BIFF split from the MILF in 2011, the BIFF continued to defy the government by perpetrating retaliatory attacks in Mindanao and North Cotabato, the DND explained, adding that some BIFF members have provided support to the Dawiah Islamiyah.
“As the peace process continues, the MILF maintains a positive stance with most of MILF activities deemed as supporting the peace process,” the DND said.
The DND noted that the chances for the success of the peace process was improved when Senate Bill 1646 calling for the enactment of a Bangsamoro Basic Law was filed last January.
The MNLF, the DND added, continued to adhere to its peace deal with the government. The DND also noted the important role MNLF founder Nur Misuari’s continuing role in supporting the peace process.
Misuari, the DND explained, had called on the MNLF to support the Duterte administration’s federalism campaign.
The DND noted President Rodrigo Duterte’s goal of achieving peace in Mindanao.
“We will strive to have a permanent and lasting peace before my term ends. That is my goal. That is my dream,” the DND quoted the President as saying.
Assistant Secretary Avelino D. Tolentino III of the HUDCC gave an update of the government’s rehabilitation efforts in Marawi.
“The HUDCC is happy to participate in the Mindanao Investment Forum,” Tolentino said.
According to Tolentino, at least P10 billion had been allocated for the city’s rehabilitation with emphasis on the most affected area.
Tolentino said the rehabilitation of Marawi was being undertaken through the “whole of government approach.”
He explained that the HUDCC became the lead agency of Task Force Bangon Marawi when President Duterte issued Administrative Order No. 9.
According to Tolentino, the prime goal of Task Force Bangon Marawi can be seen in the President’ statement, which Tolentino quoted as “I will see to it that Marawi City will rise as a prosperous city again.”
Tolentino noted that of the P10 billion that came from the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Fund (NDRRMF), total funding requests have amounted to P5.6 billion.
Tolentino explained that the said amount was for “immediate rehabilitation efforts” that will be implemented this year.
He added that the National Economic Development Authority was expected to submit the comprehensive rehabilitation plan for the President’s approval by March.
As for Marawi’s most affected area, it comprised of 24 barangays with at least 11,000 residents. The area, he added, covered at least 240 hectares.
Tolentino said the governments were looking for a good debris management plan and a site development plan. The proposed plans were evaluated last February by the selection committee co-chaired by the HUDCC and the National Housing Authority (NHA).
These proposals will then be subjected to a Swiss Challenge by April 2018 with the award and groundbreaking for the approved projects by May.
“Project completion should be by the end of 2021,” Tolentino said.
Secretary Datu Abdul Khayr Dangcal Alonto of the Mindanao Development Authority then spoke about the importance of “investing in peace.”
“We must always strive to achieve a just and lasting peace,” Alonto said. “The challenge is to create and accelerate inclusive growth in Mindanao in general and Marawi specifically. We have yet to see the millions of Mindanaoans lifted from the clutches of poverty.”
Alonto said that the leading drivers of Mindanao’s growth would come from the Davao region.
“Agriculture and agri-business remain the most important drivers of Mindanao’s economy,” Alonto explained.
Mindanao, he added, was the food basket of the Philippines accounting for 36% of the country’s farm area and 43% of its farm produce.
This, he pointed out, justified the development of more agricultural zones throughout Mindanao.
Doing so, he added, would be one way of developing the ancestral land of indigenous communities in the island.
He agreed with Yu and Macatoman that Mindanao should participate in the international halal industry.
Aside from that, Alonto said his agency was also pushing for the enactment of a bill to open more opportunities for Islamic banking institutions.
Alonto added there was the possibility of putting up a steel mill, a cement factory, oil refinery and an oil depot in Mindanao.
“This will usher in a golden age of infrastructure for the country,” said Alonto. “We’re not competing with Manila. We are going to catch up with Manila.”
Alonto explained the Mindanao Development Corridor divides the island into three sectors, namely Northern, Western and South-Central sectors.
These sectors, he explained, would parallel the Duterte administration’s plans for federalism.
“Out of the Marawi Siege, we are now pushing for the Bangsamoro Development Corridor,” added Alonto. “The Bangsamoro Development Corridor is part of the bigger picture.”
And that bigger picture was the Mindanao Development Plan.
This, he added, would include the construction of a trans-Mindanao high speed railway system in the island. Its estimated cost was P35 billion.
The plan included promoting the Sibuto passage as an alternative to the Malacca Strait. This would allow the development of the Tawi-Tawi Integrated Seaport and Economic Zone.
“Tawi-Tawi is bigger than the land area of Singapore,” Alonto said. “What was not done in the last four decades in Mindanao, we will do it in four years.”
PROMOTING DAVAO CITY
On his turn, Lemuel Ortonio, the acting head of the Davao City Investment Promotion Center, discussed the various opportunities that investors can look at in his city.
“We expect a 6% growth rate for Davao City in 2018,” he said.
He said the city government was encouraging businessmen to invest in several preferred business areas in the city, namely agri-business, tourism, light manufacturing, infrastructure and connectivity, green projects and property development.
Yu supported Ortonio, describing Davao City as the “most competitive city outside of Metro Manila.”
The two, during their separate talks, emphasized the importance of Davao City’s role in driving the economic development of Mindanao.
This was similar to the view that Alonto shared earlier in his own speech about Mindanao economic future.
PRIVATE SECTOR VIEW
The private sector view was explained by Yek Lai Fatt of YLF Contracts and Cost Solutions and architect Felino Palafox Jr.
Yek spoke from the perspective of his company, which specialized in planning, monitoring and controlling all aspects of a project in order to motivate all those involved to complete a project on time and within estimated costs.
Yek explained that the important role of a quantity surveyor in investment and capital expenditure.
For his part, Palafox discussed the need of ensuring sustainability while rebuilding for growth.
Palafox pointed out that it was essential that those involved in Marawi’s redevelopment should learn from the mistakes made in Metro Manila.
He said that Marawi should avoid Metro Manila’s error of becoming an urban center designed primarily for cars.
Drivers, once they park and leave their cars, become pedestrians, he said, adding that generally, only 2% of a population were drivers and the rest were pedestrians at most times of a day.
Cities, Palafox remarked, should be designed to accommodate people, not cars. G