Davao Today

DAVAO CITY – Unfazed by the recent bombings in Mindanao, President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday attended the 22nd Mindanao Business Conference (MinBizCon) to deliver his message that the region is stepping closer to being “a land of promises fulfilled.”

“I have the utmost confidence for the future of this region. And if we work together, I know we can fulfill Mindanao’s promise, and perhaps even exceed it,” Aquino told an audience comprised of presidents of Mindanao cities’ chamber of commerce, foreign dignitaries and officials at the MinBizCon held at the SMX Convention Center.

The President encouraged business leaders to find solutions to the continuing power crisis and encouraged Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law to attain peace in the troubled Moro areas in Mindanao.

Aquino, likewise, called on the business community to be involved in corporate social responsibility by engaging in health and education, which is part of his thrust for private-public partnership.

The President acknowledged Mindanao’s coconut industry that contributed 60% to the national economy.  He encouraged agribusiness players to boost intercropping claiming that it multiplies farmers’ income from 20,000 pesos to 170,000 annually. He mentioned 218 test sites in the region.

Aquino also announced he would allocate PhP 34.29 billion next year for infrastructure projects in roads, ports and airports to facilitate transportation of goods.

But such confidence is not shared by some sectors in Davao.

Retail trade was reported as one of the country’s strong performing sectors but the low-end vendors are affected with inflationary prices of goods and low purchasing power of consumers.

Lori, a store owner, wondered when would prices of goods stop increasing as it has affected her earnings. “Ambot kung sa gobyerno ba
na, kanang pagmahal sa mga panaliton, kay maglisod naman pud gud among customer kay mamahalan sad sila (I don’t know if this is government’s role, but as we have to raise prices as other prices go up, customers would not like to buy from us anymore), “she said.

One of the Conference participants, Geoffrey Reyes, said his business in the bakery line would benefit with the ASEAN integration with the influx of affordable standard flour and sugar imports and innovative product ideas from neighboring countries.

But he said government has to do more to make small and medium business aware of services and programs to help them, as he himself
knew little of the government reports made during the conference.

But Reyes still believed the issue is still diligence and corruption in government.

He noted that the pork barrel controversy of Congress discourages public confidence in government. “If corruption is stopped, our
country will surely grow,” Reyes said.

He was also concerned with agencies failing to monitor small bakeshops using substandard materials that lead to negative health effects.

“Government agencies lack personnel. Imagine, this monitoring body has only 400 personnel all over the country to check thousands of small businesses,” he pointed out.  The Department of Trade and Industry lists some 816,000 micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) all over the country.

Juland Suazo from the environmental group, Panalipdan, said the power industry reform would lead to increase in power rates. “The costs of power and water are increasing while the people’s purchasing power is dwindling,” he said.

He also raised concerns that the ASEAN integration would further liberalize the economy and exploit natural resources for the benefit
of multinational corporations.

The government has outline “calibrated liberalization” among service industries, and is allowing more foreign equity share from 51 to 70 percent.

“We have natural gas and oil but these are being sold-out to foreigners such as Americans, French, Japanese, and Chinese through
exploration contracts,” Suazo said.

He identified companies such as Seng Hong Exploration extracting natural gas in Agusan Marsh and US Exxon Mobil drilling oil deposits in Sulu.

Suazo also pointed out that SMEs are “not enough to make a vibrant economy. This should be auxiliary to the basic and leading industries which we don’t have.”

While Aquino addressed Mindanao’s business sector, activists led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) staged a rally outside on the grounds of SM Lanang, but were blocked by police.

Anakbayan spokesperson Mariel Moralde said they are worried of the government’s thrust of developing skilled workers for the growing sectors such as BPO, information technology and nursing in ASEAN countries.

“Gusto namo og trabaho subay sa kung unsa among gieskwelahan. Para unsa pa ang mga kurso susama sa applied math, architecture,
engineering, education, anthropology, kung padulong lang man diaygihapon mi call centers? (We want jobs that go with what we are
studying. What use would be our courses in applied math, architecture, engineering, education, anthropology when we will all end up in call centers?)” Moralde said.

“Ikaduha, dili na namo magamit among gihulma na skills aron makaambag sa kalambuan sa nasud. Kining president wala nagalantaw sa kaayuhan sa mga kabatan-unan ug sa nasud Pilipinas. (Secondly, we can’t use our skills for our country’s growth. I think the president is not looking at what’s good for the youth and for the country),” Moralde pointed out. (Tyrone A. Velez with report from Earl O. Condeza/

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