Moving Forward with the Bangsamoro

MOVING FORWARD WITH THE BANGSAMORO

– Strengthening Capacity for Development Planning and Management –
By
Urooj MALIK, Ph.D.*
(23 November 2013)

I. Introduction

The signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro has ushered in a new era for Muslim Mindanao, with the prospects for lasting peace better than ever before.   It is the first step toward finding the resolve to the long struggle of the Bangsamoro people for social justice, equity and sustainable development.  Notwithstanding, much remains to be done as we move forward with the implementation of the road map for the Bangsamoro, as agreed upon between the various parties concerned.

One of the main priorities should be to ensure that the resources deployed for development are strategically well-planned and supported by sound economic policies, that the Bangsamoro authorities have a key role in determining where and when the investments for development (loans and grants through financial aid and technical assistance) will be made, and who will be the beneficiaries.  In other words, we need to ensure that development interventions will not be “donor-driven” as is often the case in many countries where policy, planning and programming exercises are influenced heavily by powerful foreign governments and the aid agencies. Importantly, the development framework for the region must bear in mind the need for an inclusive and broad-based approach to economic growth and poverty reduction.  Equally, it is essential that development partners show respect for the culture of the Bangsamoro, dignity to its traditional leadership, and for a meaningful participation of the Bangsamoro in deciding on the projects that they themselves can truly “own”.

This note presents some initial thoughts and ideas on the challenges faced by the Bangsamoro in respect of governance and capacity building as related to development policy, planning and management.  It summarizes certain proposed measures and initiatives to help secure that resources made available for the economic and social development of the Bangsamoro are used in the most effective and efficient manner.

 

II.  The Context

A common criticism by many is that the resources earlier provided to the authorities after the signing of the 1996 peace agreement have been largely wasted.   Skeptics argue that the individuals and institutions mandated to govern the development efforts at the time were lacking in skills and capacity, and also did not have appropriate checks and balances in the governance regime.   There is, therefore, the pressing need to avoid such a situation from happening again.

The recent signing of the Framework Agreement between the MILF and the GPH has indeed provided an opportunity for the Bangsamoro to start on a clean slate and set in motion a process of building skills and strengthening capacities, as well as setting in place appropriate governance structure, systems and mechanisms that will be responsive to the Bangsamoro development framework.  It is also an opportunity to show to the development community that this time around the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its constituents are serious about ensuring accountable, transparent and participatory use of scarce development resources.  This is critical as the promised aid resources from key aid agencies and other partners are made available by them to eventually form part of the so-called “Multi-donor Mindanao Trust Fund”, hopefully to be co-managed by the World Bank and the Bangsamoro.

 

III.  Proposed Preliminary Measures and Initiatives

A. Supporting the Leadership and Establishing a Governance Structure

Effective development starts with a strong focus on economic policy management, planning and coordination.  This requires an agency that is given the authority to carry out the mandate for formulating development plans and policies, and closely coordinating these with sector line agencies for their execution.

(i) Perceptions on the Record to-date in Development Policy and Planning:  

Hitherto, the role played by the Bangsamoro Development Authority (BDA) has been perceived to be rather weak.  This may be on account of several reasons such as, capacity constraints or lack of appropriate engagement by development partners.  There is also the Bangsamoro Management and Leadership Institute (BMLI) that has been recently established and as such still at a nascent stage of development.  Consequently, the Bangsamoro need to think about a proper structure for a organization which can adequately respond to the current and emerging development needs of the region and also coordinate its work with national agencies such the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and other key oversight agencies.

(ii) Governance Structure – Learning from Good Practices in Asian Region:

An important aspect of a strong development agency is its governance structure. The agency does not necessarily have to be a large one at the initial stages, but one that has the appropriate units to handle the various priority sectors that warrant attention for the growth of the economy.   One good example of such an organization at the policy level, which initially started quite small and has gradually grown over the years, is Cambodia’s Supreme National Economic Council (SNEC). SNEC was established in 2001 to advise the Prime Minister (PM) of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) on socio-economic policy including governance.  It is attached to the PM’s Cabinet and is administratively placed under the Council of Ministers.  SNEC has four principal functions: (a) coordinate policymaking for domestic and international economic issues, (b) coordinate economic policy advice for the PM, (c) ensure that policy decisions and government programs are consistent with the RGC’s economic goals, and (d) monitor implementation of the PM’s socioeconomic policy agenda.

SNEC also periodically reviews the sector plans prepared by the Ministry of Planning and other line agencies to ensure consistency across economic sectors. It formulates an overall strategic plan from a policy perspective (called the “Rectangular Strategy”), prepares policy briefs for the PM, as well as an annual economic report.  SNEC’s organization includes the posts of Permanent Vice Chairman, a Secretary General and Deputy Secretaries General. SNEC’s work is conducted by four specialist divisions – administration, governance, economic policy, and social policy each headed by a Director with the rank equivalent to Director General.  

(iii) Provision of Advisory Support for the Leadership:

A second important facet of a development agency has also to do with strong leadership at the helm, which is backed up by sound technical and management expertise.  If the requisite skills and expertise are not available within any agency, then a stop gap measure is for a group of advisers to support the leadership and its management, and help capacitate them in leading effectively from the behind.  In this context, it is vital that the advisory group chosen must have the adequate experience in economic policy and development planning, and should be sensitive to the needs, culture and aspirations of the Bangsamoro.  The group must be credible for the MILF leadership and possess the diplomatic skills to act as the “honest broker” between the parties concerned.  Moreover, the managers made in-charge of the units must possess the right skills mix for making the right policy choices and their implications on sector performance and the delivery of development targets.

A number of Mekong countries who also emerged from a conflict situation in the 1990s (Cambodia, as well as Laos and Viet Nam) followed this formula by appointing long- and short-term advisers, who were funded by either the RGC itself or through external support.  A Chief Development Adviser managed other advisers’ outputs and performance.  The role of the advisers was to assist in the capacitation of selected staff, formulation and review of policies and plans, facilitation of negotiations between the RGC and aid agencies on their investment support programs, and help in coordination work across sector line agencies.

The Chief Development Adviser was also responsible for organizing study tours to various Asian countries for officials of agencies.  He was also tasked to help set up an eminent persons group who were prominent personalities from selected Asian nations and tasked to periodically visit the agencies to share ideas on various paradigms of and approaches to development.   In the context of the Bangsamoro, the advisers can also make efforts to engage various Islamic financing institutions, such as the Islamic Development Bank, the Kuwait Fund for International Development and the Saudi Fund, to explore ways of bringing investment in to the Bangsamoro.

(iv)  Public vs. Private Investment:

A third element requiring advisory assistance to keep in mind at this stage of development in the Bangsamoro is that there are two sides to investment.   One is the public investment part while the other need to deal with private investment.    Quite often much of the energies are spent on dealing only with the public sector side of the equation.

However, as more and more confidence builds up among private sector parties and as peace finally returns to Muslim Mindanao with improved law and order situation, it is quite likely that bigger and longer-term private investment will also flow into the Bangsamoro land. In particular, Mindanao offers a significant untapped potential for agri-business which when realized can help to meet the large and growing requirement of food in the country.  Hence, the Bangsamoro should already start planning for this eventuality by considering a governance structure for the policy oversight agency that will also take into account the potential private investment into the region.  The Bangsomoro could benefit from having advisory assistance to support the promotion of private investment.

 

B. Building Capacity and Strengthening Institutions   

Considering the current weaknesses in development policy and planning in ARMM, it will be important to request for technical assistance from aid agencies for implementing key policy and planning functions.

(i)                Need for a Longer-term Engagement on Capacity Building Efforts:

Capacity building must be seen as a long-term intervention (10-15 years), and not just for finding quick fix, short-term solutions.  All too often, donors want to give assistance for only 2-3 years and then simply walk away from an unfinished job.   Training efforts would also need to be coordinated with the advisory support (mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs) that has its own distinct function on providing day to day support for development management to the top leadership.  The Bangsamoro must, therefore, insist on longer-term engagement but with due regard to demonstrating good performance under a phased program of assistance (say 2-3 years each and stretching over to 10 years or more) that will help merit continued support for capacity building.

(ii)              Choosing the Right Officials for Training: 

The Bangsamoro would also need to decide whether they wish to maintain the BDA or BMLI (or a combination of the two) as the focal point and to strengthen it, or if considered appropriate to change its structure/leadership with the aim to respond more effectively to changed circumstances in ARMM, or to establish a new agency in-charge of development policy and planning.   In either case, the need for long-term capacity building needs to be given paramount importance.  In this context, it is important to consider who will get the training.

There is already a young and dynamic cadre of civil servants within the ARMM government and among the MILF who hold good promise of developing into solid leaders in the future to take charge of Bangsamoro affairs.  Many of them have been trained at good universities within the country. Some of them have also undergone management and leadership training programs.  These individuals (men and women) should be identified on a priority basis and interviewed in the selection process for training and development.   The main idea is to develop a cadre of civil servants well-equipped with the skills and expertise in development management who will be ripe for running the development business of the region once the New Autonomous Political Entity sets out to manage the affairs of Muslim Mindanao.

(iii)            Sequencing the Training Activities:

As a start, the selected group shall undergo specific training can begin by working with the advisers who should come on board at the earliest and, eventually as more substantive amount of technical assistance grants from external sources kicks in, they can then undergo more formal training based on carefully crafted training modules on development policy, planning and management. In the case of the Cambodian SNEC, initially the training program started the same way wherein selected individuals were appointed as research assistants and were assigned to advisers for hands-on training and research on pertinent economic and social development themes.

(iv)             Consideration for Special Studies on Topical Themes:

Special studies could also be commissioned on topical themes and issues as part of the long-term training exercises.  These may include, among others, topic such as, Islamic education policy, technical and vocational education, labor and employment laws, harnessing the agri-business potential, climate change issues effecting Muslim Mindanao, sources for revenue mobilization, public-private partnerships, and Islamic finance.

 

IV.          Concluding Thoughts

The signing of the Framework Agreement marks the beginning of a long journey for bringing about genuine peace in Muslim Mindanao.  However, for peace to be sustainable, steps would need to taken in parallel with the peace process for promoting inclusive growth and equitable development.   And for this to occur, Muslim Mindanao would need to have well-trained cadre of officials and institutions of accountability so as to ensure that the resources deployed for public and private investment are used in an effective, efficient and transparent manner.   The ideas and thoughts elucidated in this note with regard to development management are steps in that direction.   It is hoped that the note will offer an opportunity for raising awareness of key challenges and stimulate discussion for further crystallization of ideas with the MILF leadership and officials concerned, as we move forward in the journey for bringing lasting peace and development for the Bangsamoro people.

 

——————-*****——————-

* Dr. Urooj Malik is chairman and ceo of Hineleban Foundation Inc., a social enterprise working for sustainable peace, ecosystem management and rural development in Mindanao.  He is a former director of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), where his career spanned over 25 years in various capacities.  In 2010, Dr. Malik voluntarily opted to take early retirement from the ADB with the aim to focus on the development of Mindanao.  He can be reached at:  [email protected]

The challenge and promise

datu_princess2-e1354074164605The success or failure of nations in their pursuit for economic development depends, among other factors, on nurturing racial harmony and peaceful co-existence, as well as on the manner by which they manage the environment and use natural resources.

Continued conflict among people, overexploitation of resources, and poor environmental governance undermine any attempt for sustainable development and erode the prospects for economic growth and poverty reduction.

Long-term peace and stability is, therefore, closely linked to pursuing a socially responsible and environmentally-sustainable path to development. Safety and security for people in the workplace and the availability of reliable land, water, food, and energy are essential ingredients for eradicating poverty, raising living standards, and ensuring human dignity for all.

Today, the Philippines is not only unable to grow enough food to feed its current population of nearly 100 million but, yet each year, it continues to add another 2 million more mouths to feed – 20 million in just 10 years.

At the same time, our ability to produce food is steadily declining. Luzon, which has been the traditional rice granary of the Philippines, is now beset with unpredictable weather patterns that have become the normal annual pattern:

Too much rain and flooding with typhoons, and extended dry seasons without enough rainfall or irrigation water to sustain crop production. As a result, today we import nearly 2 million tons of rice annually and have a hunger rate of 20 percent.

Unless serious efforts are made to reverse these trends, the hunger rate could rise to as much as 30 percent in just the next decade due to growth of the population growth which is estimated to reach nearly 120 million by the year 2020.

A key issue we face is the future of the culturally unique and resource-rich island of Mindanao. Peace in Mindanao is critical not just for ensuring safety and security for all in the Philippines as well as in Asia-Pacific region; the island is also vital for our food security. However, despite numerous attempts to bring about peace and development, Mindanao remains one of the poorest islands in the country. Internal and external conflicts and all-out wars over many decades have claimed the lives of far too many people, and continuously aggravated poverty and despair on the island.

Such instability has disrupted agricultural production, destroyed economic infrastructure, affected the social fabric of society, displaced thousands of people from their homes, and deterred the much needed investment.

We must find an appropriate solution for Mindanao through deepened dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Engaging the enlightened leadership of Mindanao and finding your champions who truly believe in promoting racial harmony and social stability would be essential for inclusive and equitable development, and for ensuring that the dividends of peace are sustainable over the long term.

Indeed, the prospects for a peaceful co-existence are greater when partnerships with local communities and tribal leaders are strengthened, more economic opportunities are provided to the masses to reduce poverty, and there is enough food on the table to feed all members of the family.

The island of Mindanao is fortunate not to have extended dry seasons as we witness today in Luzon and has the water resources to support two to three crops a year – it can be, as it has often been called, the “food basket” of the Philippines. Mindanao’s highly fertile soil accounts for bountiful harvests of a variety of farm products: It grows most of the Philippines’ major crops such as rubber (100 percent of national production), pineapple and cacao (90 percent), as well as banana, coffee, corn, and coconut (over 50 percent).

Taken together, these crops account for over 40 percent of the Philippines’ food requirements. The island economy also contributes more than 30 percent to the national food trade, making agriculture the driving force for the island’s socioe-conomic development.

However, while Mindanao does not suffer the unpredictability of the northern typhoon belt, it does face its own challenges. Slash-and-burn farming and illegal logging have caused the loss of mountain forests that produce rainfall for the plains and rivers and provide safe water for drinking, irrigation, and hydroelectric power generation downstream.

If this trend is not reversed, the Philippines will have lost its only viable food basket, and we will be facing a starving mass population.

We must, therefore, tackle this issue through an aggressive campaign for reforestation and watershed management in the pristine natural environment of Mindanao. This would ensure adequate supply of water, food, and energy and, at the same time, help improve the livelihood of people, thereby increasing the prospects for peace and equitable development in Mindanao.

Alongside this, we must also develop the large available fertile agricultural lands downstream of the large river systems of Mindanao, with extensive water supply systems and rural irrigation networks, post-harvest facilities, and farm-to-market roads. To do this, we must encourage private investment and public-private partnerships, and build a coalition with like-minded thinkers from the academe and non-governmental organizations to enable a strong bottom-up consultative approach to community-driven development.

The main areas to focus on for development include South and North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Southern Bukidnon – and most especially, the two largest underdeveloped areas – Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, which are an integral part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Similarly, closer attention is required for the three island provinces in ARMM, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi Tawi (or Basulta) for attending to their own unique but complex development circumstances.

The people of Mindanao are fed up with long years of conflict and war. They want to live in peace and dignity, earning a decent livelihood. They want their children to be educated and have a healthy, productive life. The best weapon against poverty, social disharmony, and despair is sustainable development.

We cannot get bogged down by the territorial issues forever. While the negotiations between the past Philippine administrations and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other parties have been going on, we cannot wait for the solution to emerge which may take longer than we may want. Indeed, the role being played by the government of Malaysia in the peace process together with other sincere partners such as the Asia Foundation, is commendable and appreciated, and should be accelerated to help find a resolve acceptable to most, if not all.

With the enormous tragedies of the past, the mood in the debilitated population of Mindanao is now ripe for bringing about peace through economic growth and progress. We must seize the moment and forge ahead with the country’s development agenda, which should be one in which Mindanao is given the appropriate resources to develop, and this should be done in close concert with the many development partners who are eager to help the people of the island. We need Mindanao just as much as it needs us.

The incoming new administration of the Philippines has an essential duty on its hands to address the Mindanao factor and help turn the challenge into an opportunity for inclusiveness, equity, and social justice for all Filipinos.

Finding the right solutions to the challenge of Mindanao through continued engagement and mutual respect for the culture and people of Mindanao can enable us to end conflict and move toward an era of peace and prosperity. By doing so, together, we will realize the Promise of Mindanao.

Strategic Road Maps for the Development of the Agribusiness Industry, Halal Food Industry, and Islamic Banking and Finance in the Bangsamoro

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Prepared for
The Bangsamoro Development Agency by the Foundation for Economic Freedom

OVERVIEW
The struggle for self-determination or real autonomy is more than just political in nature – it extends to genuine fiscal and economic autonomy. While the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro appears to provide substantial revenue support to the new Bangsamoro Political Entity when it finally assumes the responsibilities of governance, getting the region out of the backwaters and on to a path of sustained and inclusive growth will be a daunting task for both planners and implementers of development programs in the new Bangsamoro.

This challenge can be met. But it will require a development strategy for the Bangsamaro that ensures environmentally sustainable and inclusive growth focused on generating employment and eliminating poverty, while recognizing the cultural and religious aspirations of the people of the region. A robust private sector will be a critical component of this strategy.

Harnessing the full potential of the agriculture sector will also be a critical component of this strategy. The agriculture sector now represent the economic backbone of the Bangsamoro, employing 70% of the working population and accounting for over 60% of the Regional Gross Domestic Product (RGDP). However, it is a sector of subsistence. The sector’s potentials were never taken advantage of over many decades, and the years of war and the accompanying years of long neglect of agricultural productivity led to lost opportunities, chronic poverty, and consequent continued restlessness among the people of the region.

Despite its current weaknesses, the restoration of peace opens the opportunity to exploit the vast untapped and underutilized tracts of highly arable land that, if properly managed and utilized, offers the potential for sustainable and inclusive growth for many years to come.

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Mindanao can be RP food basket

pic-08081221460203By Urooj S. Malik
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:42:00 08/07/2010

Filed Under: Food, Agriculture, Mindanao peace process

MANILA, Philippines?The success or failure of nations in their pursuit of economic development depends, among other factors, on nurturing racial harmony and peaceful coexistence, as well as on the manner by which they manage the environment and use natural resources.

Continued conflict among people, overexploitation of resources and poor environmental governance undermine any attempt at sustainable development and erode the prospects for economic growth and poverty reduction.

Long-term peace and stability are, therefore, closely linked to pursuing a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable path to development.

Safety and security for people in the workplace and the availability of reliable land, water, food and energy are essential ingredients for eradicating poverty, raising living standards and ensuring human dignity for all.

Food shortage

Today, the Philippines is unable to grow enough food to feed its population of nearly 100 million and yet each year it continues to add 2 million more mouths to feed.

At the same time, our ability to produce food is steadily declining. Luzon, which has been the traditional rice granary of the Philippines, is now beset with unpredictable weather patterns that have become the normal annual pattern: too much rain and flooding with typhoons, and extended dry seasons without enough rainfall or irrigation water to sustain crop production.

Rice imports

There are many other reasons why we are facing a food shortage, some of which were also touched upon by President Aquino in his first State of the Nation Address (Sona). Governance in our institutions is weak and allegations of mismanagement in rice imports and distribution persist.

Security of land tenure for farmers remains an issue, with much remaining to be done through the agrarian reform process. Much of land is being converted into real estate and property leaving less available land for agriculture and crop production. And, farmer-training and extension services need improvement.

Loss of forest cover

Another important reason for the emerging food crisis has to do with loss of forest cover. As a result of massive logging and slash-and-burn practices as well as natural fires, our primary forest cover has declined from over 70 percent in the 1970s to less than 3 percent today.

Forests are a vital source for regulating our climate and help provide the rainfall needed for our agriculture. They also absorb the carbon in the atmosphere, thereby helping mitigate against the dangers of global warming and climate change.

Hunger

As a result of the aforementioned factors, we have a rather serious food situation in the country. We import on average about 1.5 to 2 million tons of rice annually and have a hunger rate of 20 percent.

Unless serious efforts are made to reverse these trends, the hunger rate could rise to as much as 30 percent in just the next decade due to rising population growth, which is estimated to reach nearly 120 million by the year 2020, i.e., 20 million more people in just 10 years.

A key issue we face is the future of the culturally unique and resource-rich island of Mindanao. Peace in Mindanao is critical not just for ensuring safety and security for all in the Philippines as well as in the Asia Pacific. The island is also vital for our food security.

Conflicts

However, despite numerous attempts to bring about peace and development, Mindanao remains one of the poorest islands in the country. Internal and external conflicts and all-out wars over many decades have claimed the lives of far too many people, and continuously aggravated poverty and despair on the island.

Such instability has disrupted agricultural production, destroyed economic infrastructure, affected the social fabric of society, displaced thousands of people from their homes, and deterred the much needed investment.

Dialogue

We must find an appropriate solution for Mindanao through deepened dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Engaging the enlightened leadership of Mindanao and finding young champions who truly believe in promoting racial harmony and social stability would be essential for inclusive and equitable development, and for ensuring that the dividends of peace are sustainable over the long term.

Mr. Aquino recognized in his Sona the critical need for revitalizing the peace process and mentioned the need for resuming the dialogue with Mindanao leaders.

Investment proposals

This will entail continuing the peace dialogues started earlier by the government with its partners, engaging the private sector and identifying viable investment proposals in close consultation with the people of Mindanao.

Equally, partnerships with nongovernment organizations will be important for helping to build capacity and provide ground-level support for implementing investment and development projects.

Undoubtedly, the prospects for a peaceful coexistence are greater when partnerships with local communities and tribal leaders are strengthened, when more economic opportunities are provided to the masses to reduce poverty, and when there is enough food on the table to feed all members of the family.

Food basket

The island of Mindanao is fortunate not to have extended dry seasons as we witness today in Luzon and has the water resources to support two to three crops a year?it can be, as it has often been called, the ?food basket? of the Philippines.

Mindanao?s highly fertile soils account for bountiful harvests of a variety of farm products: It grows most of the Philippines? major crops such as rubber (100 percent of national production), pineapple and cacao (90 percent), as well as banana, coffee, corn and coconut (over 50 percent).

Taken together, these crops account for over 40 percent of the country?s food requirements. The island economy also contributes more than 30 percent to the national food trade, making agriculture the driving force for the island?s socioeconomic development.

However, while Mindanao does not suffer the unpredictability of the northern typhoon belt, it does face its own challenges. As noted earlier, as with the rest of the country, slash-and-burn farming and illegal logging in Mindanao have caused the loss of mountain forests that produce rainfall for the plains and rivers and provide safe water for drinking, irrigation and hydroelectric power generation downstream.

Such is the extent of the damage that in rivers such as the Agusan and Kumaykay the water discharge (estimated in liters per second) has decreased by up to 75 percent, and the Pulangi hydroelectic power station operates at about 50 percent of its capacity, thus adversely affecting food production and energy supply for the island and the country as a whole.

If this trend is not reversed, the Philippines will lose its only viable food basket, and we will be facing a starving population.

Reforestation

We must, therefore, tackle this issue through an aggressive campaign for reforestation and watershed management in the pristine natural environments of Mindanao.

Principally, these areas include the five mountain ranges that are the haven for primary mossy forests and the critical watersheds which are located in the heart of Mindanao, especially Bukidnon and parts of Lanao del Sur, including one of the largest water reservoir on the island?Lake Lanao.

Watersheds, rivers

Specifically, the primary mossy forests to be protected include, the Pantaron, Katinglad, Kalatungun, Matigsalug, and Wao and Bumbaran mountain ranges. These watersheds feed six major river systems, namely, Cagayan, Tagoloan, Pulangi, Maridugao, Davao-Salug and Gingoog. (See maps.)

Saving the mossy forest would ensure adequate supply of water, food and energy, and help improve the livelihood of people, thereby increasing the prospects for peace and equitable development in Mindanao.

Alongside, we must also develop the large available fertile agricultural lands downstream of the large river systems, with extensive water-supply and rural-irrigation networks, post-harvest facilities and farm-to-market roads.

To do this, we must encourage private investment and public-private partnerships, and build a coalition with like-minded people from the academe and nongovernment organizations to enable a strong bottom-up consultative approach to community-driven development.

Agriculture development

The main areas for agriculture development include South and North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Southern Bukidnon?and most especially, the two largest undeveloped areas?Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, which are an integral part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Similarly, closer attention is required for the three island provinces in the ARMM, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (or Basulta) for their unique but complex development circumstances.

The people of Mindanao are fed up with long years of conflict. They want to live in peace and dignity, earning a decent livelihood. They want their children to be educated and have a healthy, productive life. The best weapon against poverty, social disharmony and despair are peace and sustainable development.

Indeed, the role being played by the government of Malaysia in the peace process together with other sincere partners such as the United States Agency for International Development and The Asia Foundation, is commendable and appreciated, and should be accelerated to help find a solution acceptable to most, if not all.

Territorial issues

However, we cannot get bogged down by the territorial issues forever. While the negotiations between the past Philippine administrations and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other parties must continue, we cannot simply be waiting for the solution to emerge which could take longer than we may wish.

Given the enormous tragedies of the past, the mood in the debilitated population of Mindanao is now ripe for bringing about peace through economic growth and progress.

We must seize the moment and forge ahead with the country?s development agenda, which should be one in which Mindanao is given the appropriate resources to develop. This should be done in close concert with the many development partners who are so eager to help the people of the island. We need Mindanao just as much as it needs us.

Peace talks

The Aquino administration has a duty to address the Mindanao factor and help turn the challenge into an opportunity for inclusiveness, equity and social justice for all Filipinos.

The good news is that the President has recognized the importance of peace on the island and promised to restart talks in earnest soon after Ramadan.

The Filipinos and the people of the region and the world will be closely watching with much interest how the situation evolves and how, in a meaningful way, the new administration, its partners and the Mindanao leadership engage in the dialogue.

Finding the right solutions to the challenge of Mindanao through continued engagement and mutual respect for its culture and people can enable us to end the conflict, move toward an era of peace, and provide us with the security of food, water and energy, and prosperity of the Filipino nation as a whole. By working together, we will realize the promise of Mindanao.

(Urooj S. Malik is chair of Hineleban Foundation, a nonprofit organization working for peace and sustainable development in Mindanao. He worked for the Asian Development Bank for over 25 year and, during the past 10 years at ADB, he served in the senior management stream, first as country director in Cambodia, then as director for Mekong Infrastructure, and finally as director of agriculture, environment and natural resources, Southeast Asia Department.)

Fast Facts

* 135,626 sq km – land area

* 21.6 million ? population (2007)

* P3,572 (ARMM) ? P17,050 (Region 10) ? range of per capita gross regional domestic product (2008)

* $2.99 billion ? total value of exports (2008)

* 26 percent ? incidence of hunger among households, equivalent to about 1.1 million families (SWS, June 2010)

* 120,000 ? estimated number of deaths as a result of the conflict between Moro secessionists and government forces since 1970 (2008)

Sources: NSO, NSCB, SWS, UP Forum

Compiled by Kate Pedroso, Inquirer Research

Hineleban Foundation Incorporated (HFI) was formed in 2006 as a non-profit, non-stock organisation whose main advocacy is to reforest the high mountain ranges of Mindanao. To accomplish this, HFI partnered with the Indigenous People who live within the buffer zones of these mountains. Providing them with Family Food Security and sustainable disposable livelihoods through the model of Transformational Business Partnerships. Thus, restoring their role as “Custodians of the Rainforest”.