The Wife’s Gripes

by Juan L. Mercado

Did your wife gripe about bolting food prices?  Mine did. “Rice, fish, poultry, you name it. The costs are up,” she said. “Can you imagine what that does to the jobless and beggars?”    

“No”, we admit. Statistics we fiddle with are antiseptic. Asian Development Bank, figures food prices bolted by 10 percent since New Year. In the Asia-Pacific region, higher food prices shackled 19 million to grinding poverty, adds the UN.

The math is right. But it doesn’t afford a glimpse into the lethargic despair of the ill-fed. Still, it underscores the urgency of  enabling hobbled food granaries, like Mindanao, to boost food production.


Much rides, therefore, on Mindanao peace proposals that government negotiatiors will unveil for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, mid-August, in Kuala Lumpur. It offers a three-pronged “creative but risky strategy” notes the International Crisis Group.

The three prongs: (a) Concrete reforms in the once warlord-racked Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; (b) separate discussions with, the MILF and MNLF; and (c) the prickly issues of territory and powers of a future Moro “sub-state”.

An Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao,  still plagued by ghost-voter studded lists and warlord remnants, led the administration to postpone elections. By reforms, President Aquino hopes to disprove autonomy means corruption, poverty, plus private armies. By including Moro National Liberation Front among ARRM appointees, Aquino can show progress on unimplemented 1996 agreement.

There’s no guarantee government can clean up the Augean stable that is ARMM in two years. And some stakeholders may refuse to bow out.  But Muslim civil society organizations, weary of conflict, may prod MILF and MNLF onto one negotiating track?

Insurgents have indicated interest in running an interim administration until a new, autonomous sub-state is created.   Delays could deepen MILF uncertainty about the government’s intentions.

”For all the creativity of his peace process advisers, President Aquino appears to be a man of extreme caution.  He emerges as one who won’t, agree to anything that cannot be implemented,” the International Crisis Group notes.

“The emerging strategy appears to be an attempt to ensure that any future agreement on the territory and powers of an expanded autonomous region would be both legitimate and enforceable.”

However, the peace talks go, the task of buildling a sustainable future for Mindanao, must press on, former NEDA chair Cielito Habito stresses. But that calls for much more prudent stewardship of its inherent wealth than in the past.      

Mindanao’s wealth has been exploited, over many decades, by a few — and at great cost to future generations, he wrote  in his Inquirer column. The economy derived its past growth “primarily by resource extractive activities”.

“The day when you burned a hectare of forest, so as to harvest 600 kilos of rice is over”. “Mindanao 2020” is a blueprint for the island region,  formulated collectively by Mindanaoans. It plans Mindanao’s future around an increasingly fragile environment. This road map contains these key guideposts.

Agriculture and agriculture-based industries will be the most prominent driver of  Mindanao’s  economy  into the future. Large plantation agriculture and smallholder farming must develop,  tapping  non-traditional high value crops.  Organic farming and halal food production will expand, given its natural suitability for niche segments.

Forestry industry must draw on well-managed commercial tree farming, since natural growth forests have been almost totally exhausted.. Massive reforestation is urgent in the face of large-scale deforestation.

To avoid further depletion, coastal and marine fisheries must be pursued in more carefully measured steps.  Shortages already impact the lives of millions of Mindanaoans.

Mariculture will figure more prominently in Mindanao’s fisheries sector.  Parallel efforts to rejuvenate marine resources, through fishing moratoriums, in key fishing grounds will reduce production in the short to medium term.

Mining is in Mindanao will stay. “There is no room for extreme positions on this need”. A number of large mining projects are just starting. Others are in the pipeline. But “responsible mining” measures must be clamped on,   if the industry is to have a future.” Direct export of raw mineral ores can be minimized by establishment of processing industries within the country.

Waterways for Mindanao’s large hydroelectric dams and power plants are severely silted.  Loss of surface water is taking  a toll .To  offset looming  power shortages and  stiff energy bills, Mindanao must move towards small hydroelectric plants. Solar, wind, biomass  energy, along with work and restoration of watersheds, deserve more than today’s token  attention.

Tourism development, particularly ecotourism, can be a “win-win. Preparatory work has been done under a tourism cluster approach. A  Mindanao-wide consensus is still be be forged.

Even without Abu Sayyaf and other insurgents,  peace and security are likely to be compromised anew within the next 20 years—  if today’s mismanagement of various natural resources persist.

Tightening water supplies; competing claims over land to depleting fisheries may spark new conflicts. It is imperative that such tensions be contained now, lest they escalate into violent conflict in the future.

“Indeed, the very future of Mindanao rests on the future of its environment”, and not merely in the killing fields of Pitakul, Sulu or negotiating tables in Kuala Lumpur.

(Email: juanlmercado)

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