Monday, February 11, 2013

The historic Sajahantra Bangsamoro and the Need for more Public-Private Partnerships in depressed rural areas in Mindanao

This day marks the day when President Benigno S. Aquino III is expected to visit the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Simuay in Sultan Kudarat. Aquino and the MILF leadership would launch the Sajahantra Bangsamoro, a social development program for 12,000 MILF fighters and sympathizers living in Central Mindanao.

A 2,500 strong force composed of MILF combatants and those from the AFP and the PNP will be guarding the routes that dignitaries and high government officials will be using to reach the main MILF stronghold. There, at Simuay, the launch program will happen, simultaneously with other solidarity activities.

Many people hope to see the restoration of peace and development in Mindanao.

I just came from a visit in Mindanao, specifically in the Zamboanga peninsula (Zamboanga del Norte, Zambo del Sur and Sibugay) and unfortunately, I have yet to see the substantial change in the socio-economic and even political landscape.

Mindanao is still grappling from the scourge of poverty, something which is being seriously addressed by local government units in the area. However, with most towns here classified as 4th and even 5th class municipalities, with annual budgets of not less than 20 million pesos, it would be extremely difficult, even impossible to address the basic and glaring problems attending poverty.

One of the most pressing needs really in Mindanao is the lack of paved secondary and tertiary roads. Several roads linking far flung barangays and towns have already been constructed, thanks to the help of numerous multinational companies such as TVI, a  mining firm operating in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

TVI has constructed kilometers upon kilometers of roads in Zambo Sur and Sibugay, and also in Zambo Norte but they can only do so much. These roads are very important components in the development paradigm and the administration should seriously address these immediately so that progress will eventually reach even those towns such as Bayog and RT Lim.

I believe government should re-visit how they classify townships here in our country. The present system calls for the ranking of towns based on income generation. Income generation is the basis for apportioning budgets---the less income generated by a town, the smaller their annual budgets are.

How can a poor municipality such as say Siocon or Bayog in Zamboanga be able to fully address their basic developmental needs with an annual budget of just 20 million pesos? Obviously, there would be slow development still in these towns given a very low budget.

This happens in every part of the country. For capital to reach these towns and for these towns to generate more revenues government must seriously participate in closing the gap.

If government does not have enough budget, then what government should do is encourage more private-public partnerships in depressed rural areas. Government help should reach even those towns not in Google maps. These are those towns susceptible to terrorist penetration.

Serious intervention is key towards rural development. If these towns would only rely on governmental budgets, it would take years before change would spill over these parts.

First, PPP should be encouraged not for the development of urban centers but moreso on developing rural towns and building their capacity towards cityhood. There should be more city centers in the countrysides and it would only be realised if private enterprises would be allowed by government to enter into the picture and help LGU's build the necessary infrastructures to spur more development.

Sajahantra Bangsamoro intends to spur a faster way towards developing depressed areas in Mindanao.