Press Release
August 4, 2012

Speech of Sen. Koko Pimentel at the 21st Mindanao Business Conference Almont Hotel Inland, Butuan City, August 3, 2012

[GREETINGS] Halangdon Mayor sa Butuan City Mayor, Dr. Ferdinand Amante, Jr.; Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President, Atty. Miguel Valera; Butuan City Chamber of Commerce and Industry President, Mr. Joseph Omar Andaya; illustrious officers and members of PCCI and BCCCIFI, members of the business community; distinguished guests and friends; ladies and gentlemen, mga igsoon kong mga Mindanaonon, maayong hapon kaninyong tanan, a pleasant afternoon to you all.

I am honored to speak before you this afternoon. I wish to thank Atty. Varela and Mr. Andaya for their very kind invitation. And I would like to commend the leadership and the organizers of the 21st Mindanao Business Conference for bringing together entrepreneurs and business leaders from various local chambers all around the country to focus on the development of Mindanao as a means also of developing the entire country.

But before I proceed to discuss the main points of my talk, allow me first to greet our brother-and-sister Muslims, a happy Ramadan. Like the Lenten season for us Christians, Ramadan is a time for reflection, of looking back, at how we have conducted our lives - for good or ill - and more important to see how we may rectify whatever we have done wrong and determine to do things right the next time around.

Now, our theme "Invest in Mindanao... Towards a More Inclusive, Progressive and Greener Future," cannot therefore but stimulate optimism even in the hearts of the most hardboiled business people, that today we do have a golden opportunity to put money for appropriate businesses in Mindanao that will not only bring back a fair rate of return for the entrepreneurs but provide work and give dignity to the workers who will be employed by the investors.

President Noynoy said as much in his most recent State of the Nation Address. I need not dwell on the specifics of what he said. You are all familiar with positive statistics of growth that our country is beginning to experience under his administration.

As a Mindanaonon, however, I would like to underscore some facts and figures that do not lie and should induce our business community and those from other countries as well to do business in Mindanao and stay there for as long as they can earn their keep and make the people of Mindanao contented and happy in the thought that they are living lives worthy of human beings.

Believe it or not, Mindanao is the 19th largest island in the world. It is also the second largest of the more than 7,000 islands that make up our country. It contains one-fourth of the national population and one-third of the land area. It is home to one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia.

Because it is centrally located within Asia and the East ASEAN Growth Area, it is easily accessible by air, land, and sea transport. Mindanao has 38 seaports, 4 strategic container ports and 15 airports, two of which are international airports. We have a deep pool of skilled human resources from a population of over 22 million Mindanaonons.

Most of Mindanao is located outside the typhoon belt. We have abundant, available, fertile lands perfectly suited for agri-industrial development. Mindanao is endowed with eight major river basins, namely: Agusan, Tagoloan, Cagayan de Oro, Tagum-Libuganon, Davao, Buayan-Malungon, Agus and the Mindanao River - all of which could supply water for irrigation and other related needs. Forty-four (44) percent of food consumed in the Philippines is produced here. Mindanao is also the country's major producer of rubber, pineapple, banana and coffee.

We are also near the rich fishing lanes of the West Philippine (South China) and Celebes Seas, which bodies of water account for 35 percent of the country's fish catch. With strong local government support through infrastructure development and favorable policies, Mindanao is now the emerging location for tourism and business process outsourcing, among other sunrise industries.

But even as we urge the influx of foreign direct investments and expansion of local industries in Mindanao, we would like to suggest that the business enterprises - both local and foreign - that want to do business or may already be doing business in Mindanao, focus on entreprenueurial activities that are sustainable and which give due respect to sound ecological balance, that will surely benefit not only their corporate or individual interests but those of the tri-peoples of Mindanao - the Moros, the Lumads, and the Christians, not only for today, but also for tomorrow and yes, forever.

There are a number of specific business activities in Mindanao that can stand more investments and perhaps downstreaming of existing operations.

I refer as examples to:

  • GenSan that has well-established fisheries, agriculture and IT business sectors.

  • Pagadian City that is a highly agricultural area, with established supply routes to Cebu and Cagayan de Oro. It also has a thriving marine and aquaculture industry, construction services and the manufacture of marble, concrete, and wooden construction materials.

  • Zamboanga del Sur that has a large coconut production base; there are lots of opportunities for investors in coco semi-processing. I would suppose in the production and marketing of coconut water to a whole wide world north of us who might not even know what a coconut looks like, much less, have tasted the divine nectar of life that coconut water possesses in its natural state.

  • Lanao del Sur that has a reputation as being the only community in the island that produces excellent brassware.

  • Misamis Oriental has a fast becoming international attraction: its nature-tripping activities that include watersports, cave exploration and ethnic settlements. In addition, there are beautiful clean seas and beaches that offer limitless aqua adventures .

If that were the end of what our glorious island of Mindanao can offer business entrepreneuers the world-over, I would have declined brusquely, yes, your organization's invitation to be with you here on this occasion.

But I did not because Mindanao has much more blessings to share with others who we suggest should come and make use of them not only for the dollars that may come their way but also for economic and social benefits that their business enterprises will make possible for our people, especially, the Lumads, the Moros and our fellow Christians who know of no other land than Mindanao, the land of our birth.

Yes, there is -

  • Compostela Valley that looks like it is nature's laboratory of art. Where else can one find a place brimming with natural attractions like beaches, waterfalls, forests, mountain ranges, caves, lakes, rivers, hot and cold springs. You name it and with a flick of a finger, you will be there enjoying the whole panorama of the beauty of nature's art work.

  • And on a more prosaic level, if one wants to plant one's feet firmly on the ground, there's Agusan del Norte, the very place where this beautiful city of Butuan, where we are enjoying this conference, is located, (thanks to the tireless efforts of the energetic mayor who has painstakingly nurtured the city back to life as a doctor of medicine) which is the region's leading rice producer. Agusan del Norte also abounds with major products like coconut, corn, mango, banana, palm oil, vegetables, and prawns all of which could lead to the establishment of downstream industries.

  • Then, there's the much vaunted "diamond growth area": the province of Agusan del Sur. Like the diamonds in South Africa, the potential of the diamond growth area may be more easily discovered through the proactive intervention of the Agusan del Sur Provincial Industrial Center. The Center is ready, I understand, among other things, to facilitate the entry and operation of light to medium industries engaged in agro-industrial processing in the province's economic zone.

Three more provinces and I am done with suggested specifics of what investors can do in many parts of Mindanao where they may make money but also help communities get out of the sucking quagmire of poverty.

  • Bukidnon is a major producer of rice, corn, sugar coffee, rubber, pineapple, tomato, flowers, cassava, and other fruits and vegetables. It is also a major producer of chicken, hogs, and cattle. [Among its major corporations, Del Monte Phils. Inc. is engaged in pineapple production and cattle fattening while Bukidnon Sugar Milling Corp. and Crystal Sugar Milling are into sugar milling and refining.]

  • Davao, the world's largest city in terms of land area of 2,443.6 square kilometers, has the biggest tracts of arable lands in the country where huge fruit plantations and ornamental flower gardens are located. Aside from bananas and pomelos, other plantation products include durian, abaca, ramie, corn, rice, coffee and coconuts. Its orchid gardens yield a wide variety of rare and endemic species such as the waling-waling. It is the top exporter of Region XI exporting to major world markets such as Japan, the United States of America, the Middle East, and Europe.

  • There is also Zamboanga Sibugay which is blessed with an impressive range of excellent tourist destinations - interesting mountain formations, picture-perfect waterfalls, caves in which dwell thousands of bats as well as stalactites, hot springs, white sand beaches, and fish and sea snake sanctuaries. If you want excellent bread and cookies and cake, you will find them in the bakeries of the big towns of the province where rice and corn milling, food processing, and rattan and wood furniture production await innovative techniques and the input of more funds for domestic and international consumption.

Finally, there is -

  • Siargao Island that is known for its surfing waves with a worldwide reputation for thick, hollow tubes, known as "Cloud 9." [The internationally well-known right-breaking reef wave annual surfing competition that culminates in the award of the annual Siargao Cup is sponsored by the provincial government of Surigao del Norte.]

Believe me, my dear friends, there are a thousand other unbelievably attractive sights and opportunities say, in Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi which but for the still simmering conflict between some armed rebel groups and the government are denied visitation, enjoyment and development by well meaning citizens and our friends from abroad.

Needless to say, we must seek in good faith and with justice for all, a just and lasting peace for all so that its blessings for progress and prosperity will be enjoyed by all our people regardless of religion, age, sex, ethnicity or status in life.

Allow me to tackle a rather prickly topic: mining.

My own simplistic view is that mining may be allowed in the country provided that the best practices of mining that foreign investors follow in their own land are observed here: that the environment is not degraded and that fair returns are assured not only the investors but reasonable taxes are paid for the benefit of the residents of the mining areas and of the people of the country in general.

Ang buot ipasabut, dili nila gub-on ang atong mga kabukiran, dili nila hilo-an ang atong mga tubig, dili nila dauton ang hangin ug ang ecological balance sa atong katilingban.

Sa ingon ni-ini, mahimong sustainable ang mining para sa kaayohan sa nasud dili lang sa mga investors.

Naturally, also we must provide the necessary power supply to keep the development of Mindanao sustainable. To this end, I am of the opinion that our energy problems will never be solved until we develop our own indigenous sources of energy.

Over and above all, we, as a people, must work together to seek peace, not continue the bloodshed in many parts of Mindanao.

I know komplicated kaayo ang problema. But I submit that there is one feasible, reasonable, doable, constitutional solution to the war that has ravaged many parts of Mindanao for centuries: and that is the adoption of the federal system of government.

I know there is no time to dwell into the details of such a proposal or to tackle all the issues that affect the peace, progress and development of Mindanao. We can probably have another forum for that.

In the meantime, let us all remember that for the sake of peace and development of our nation, we cannot do it by a sectoral or segregated approach. Dili mahimo nga ang mga Moros lamang ang maghatag sa mga suhestiyon para sa kalinaw. Dili usab mahimo nga mga Lumad lang o mga Kristiano lang. Kitang tanan mga Pilipino mosalmot sa pagpangita sa malinawong sulosyon sa problema sa kagubot sa pipila ka parte sa Mindanao.

As one of only two Senators from Mindanao, I was born in Cagayan de Oro City by the way, I have long called for "affirmative action" or, in other words, "preferential treatment" for Mindanao. And I have breaking good news to announce to all Mindanaonons: "Mindanao will receive P43.72 billion for infrastructure projects next year, or roughly 26.4 percent of the total budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)." That is more than one-fourth of DPWH's total budget! It is about time that we are allowed to catch up with Luzon and the Visayas.

I am also proud to announce that after only eight (8) months in the Senate, I have already made a contribution to the strengthening of democracy in Mindanao. I was instrumental in the annulment of the padded voters' lists of ARMM which led to the general re-registration of voters in the ARMM last month. I hope that this significant first step towards clean and honest elections, that is, a clean voters' list, will result in erasing the stigma of ARMM (and indirectly of Mindanao) as being the "cheating capital of the Philippines".

The road towards reform and to progress and development will not be easy. But as Mindanaonons we should be ready, willing, and able to suffer and endure all the hardships that come our way. Because that is the right thing to do for ourselves and for our posterity. This is the lesson I have learned from my own struggles in life: "Pag nasa tama ka, never give up." Together, we are strong. When we do the right thing together and never give up, we are sure to succeed.

Hinaut unta kaloy-an kita kanunay sa kahitas-an ug ang atong pulo sa Mindanao hatagan sa higayon nga mahimong makina sa pagpauswag (to become the engine of growth) sa nasud nga Pilipinhon. MAGHIUSA KITANG TANAN PARA SA KAUSWAGAN SA MINDANAO UG SA TIBUOK NASUD.

Salamat sa inyong pagpaminaw. Daghang salamat kaninyong tanan.

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