While security forces continue to fight the Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, the government must also pursue the fight on another front: Sectors that will try to derail the government’s economic development programs.
The Philippines is still enjoying high investor confidence, but they must be assured that the government remains under control.
This is why I look now at the election of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in 2016 as timely and overdue. Timely because, as I said in last week’s column, he is the kind of chief executive and commander-in-chief we need to deal with the Marawi siege – decisive and able to respond promptly to threats to national security, and overdue because Mindanao has long needed a leader who will give priority to its development to realize its long-touted promise. With its own son as president, the southern island group now has the biggest chance at achieving that goal.
Under the Constitution of the Philippines, as well as under the laws of many democratic countries, martial law is a last resort to preserving the peace and system of government. It is shunned by economists and the private sector because it disrupts economic activities at the very least. For citizens, the term alone is synonymous to repression and loss of freedom.
The imposition of martial law in Mindanao is the exception to the negative impression of martial law. Filipinos, in general, are supporting it as a necessary measure to defeat the Maute group’s attempt to establish a terrorist enclave in Mindanao.
The business sector, if its activities can be used as gauge, also indicates favorable reaction to the President’s decision. After all, what businessman would like to operate in an environment of terror?
Businessmen and analysts see the Marawi siege as a temporary setback and will not affect the private sector’s plans and activities for the growth of their businesses in the Philippines. Hotel developers say the impact of the terrorist attack was confined to Mindanao, but the overall domestic market remains robust.
Major players in different industries also continue their expansion plans. For instance, integrated property developer Vista Land & Lifescapes, Inc. recently announced its plans to expand its tourism and hospitality business in the next three years to complete its residential, commercial and office leasing portfolio. The company is also looking at developing industrial estates in the next five years.
Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), a local unit of Hong Kong-based First Pacific, has submitted a proposal to build an expressway that would link Cavite, Tagaytay and Batangas. The project is estimated to cost P25 billion.
Economists, both government and private, say the Marawi siege will not significantly affect the economy’s upward trajectory. In a report that was released only last July 1, the World Bank predicted continued robust growth for the Philippines. It expects the country’s economy to expand by 6.8 percent this year, slightly lower than the earlier projection of 6.9 percent, and retained the 6.9-percent growth forecast for 2018.
While the Marawi siege is not expected to have a significant adverse effect on the economy, this is not to say that Mindanao should be dismissed as a least-priority sector of the economy.
Let’s not forget that for many years, it has been dubbed the “Land of Promise” because of its huge wealth of natural resources – from fertile lands to rich forests to fisheries and minerals. No one can deny Mindanao’s potential to become a key factor in propelling the economy and lifting Filipinos from the clutches of poverty.
Yet the promise has remained a promise unrealized, a dream unfulfilled, because the power to set the mechanism was for many years lodged in what President Duterte calls imperial Manila. Mindanao, until the 2016 elections, never received the amount of attention it needed to turn its dream into reality.
When the Marawi siege is over and the rebuilding of the city begins, the biggest challenge for the government as well as the private sector is to aggressively pursue the development not only of Marawi but of the whole of Mindanao.
After all, promoting investments, generating employment and raising the people’s standard of living is still the most effective way to prevent the rise of dissent.
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