The iron island

Published March 26, 2019, 12:43 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



John Tria
John Tria

As the second edition of the Ironman Davao ends with a bigger crowd of enthusiasts and participants than last year’s event, two thoughts emerge:

One, how this city, which just celebrated its 82nd birthday, has made Mindanao such an attractive destination for tourists and investors despite the challenges.

The record number of tourists last year at 2.4 million, and the frequently full flights to and from Davao and Manila and Cebu reflect the islands’ high growth especially in the two southern Mindanao regions of Davao snd Socksargen. I guess growth attracts visitors.

Second, it lends a spotlight on the fact that in almost all trust and satisfaction surveys, the President and his government have gained near-excellent ratings. Again, despite the brickbats.

 It seems that with consistent ratings are an approval of his tough approach and martial law.

To help examine these, let’s examine some numbers. The Davao and Socksargen regions beat the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates of 6.8% in 2017 with 10.9 and 8.2% Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP), respectively and may likely do so in 2018.

That’s with only a slight increase in budgetary allocation for Mindanao which historically only gets a fourth of the budget pie. Metro Manila and Luzon get about half.

That’s also with the Marawi conflict in full swing in 2017 and frequent skirmishes with he New People’s Army about two years ago.

But with the continued imposition or martial law, friends tell me that the number of skirmishes between rebels of all types has gone down, so much so that the Jolo bombings got the media attention because such events have become a bit rare. They also tell me that revolutionary tax activity is not as prevalent after martial law was imposed.

Despite continuing to be cautious, locals recognize these as positive developments that will pave the way for more growth.

Moving forward, as the Bangsamoro Transition Authority begins its operations and higher budgets arrive (if Congress gets its budget together, though as of presstime it looks like it hasn’t), important support infrastructure to the key “Build, Build, Build” projects will be rolled out, and investment missions from neighboring ASEAN states will start making deals.

 A lot is riding on the peace dividend provided by this agreement, and the lower occurrence of conflict situations we are seeing.

Likewise, new investments such  the reported steel plants in northern Mindanao will commence construction and various malls and commercial centers in Butuan, Zamboanga, and Iligan will start building.

If the TRABAHO bill is passed, the reduction of the corporate income tax may boost the Small and Medium Enterprise sector that employs the vast majority of our workers.

Moreover, the presence of an upgraded Japanese consulate general, and the entry of the Chiense consulate on the island also boost the island’s capaciy to attract foreign direct investment.

The construction work alone to build these investments will demand thousands of workers and draw them away from rebel activity. Empty lots are cleared to make way for new and taller buildings, and higher job vacancies are reported from construction firms, retail establishments, to Business Process Outsourcing companies.

Thus, we are seeing pockets of high growth leading the islands effort. The first quarter of 2019 seems like a good start.

With the numbers  it is clear that the high growth took place despite the Marawi siege snd minimal budgetary interventions from government. This makes the potential even clearer. Peace and budgetary support may boost the growth even more.

That said, our country’s growth will continue if the island’s potentials are tapped even more deeply.

Unlike other presidential home regions, Mindanao is particularly big at 25 million, and has the potential to grow its combined economy further. Imagine how much larger the nation’s economy will grow if everyone on the island is employed and productive?

 With higher budget allocations, and key projects to spur growth and peace dividends, this is likely to happen.That Mindanao has so much to offer has become an even bigger possibility.

It has become our resilient, tough “iron island” that has withstood conflict and neglect and pushed its growth.

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