Leaders want Mindanao idle lands declared ecozones

Published September 10, 2020, 5:00 AM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

A petition asking President Duterte to declare all public lands in Mindanao as economic zones is gathering steam to ensure progress and development in the country’s second largest island, but which hosts some of the poorest areas in the country, while the Mindanao-born president is still in power.

Philippine Economic Zone Authority Director General Charito B. Plaza. (Photo credit from Corporate Communications Division Philippine Economic Zone Authority)

This was raised by Philippine Economic Zone Authority Director General Charito B. Plaza at the Mindanao Wide Ecozone Summit 2020 the agency conducted with local leaders in Mindanao.

“If we can petition to the President to proclaim all public lands of Mindanao as economic zones because based on our experience when we started the five public zones all the others followed resulting in various public ecozones and private ecozones,” said Plaza in her keynote speech noting the creation of these ecozones have resulted in development and progress in the host localities.

Plaza also noted the need to act now for a petition before President Duterte, who hails from Davao, steps down from office in June 2022.

“Let’s take advantage that President Duterte is a Mindanaoan so before his term ends we can make the ‘Mindanao a Land of Promise’ a reality. The power is in our hands,” said Plaza, who hails from the CARAGA region and author of the PEZA Law during her term as a Congresswoman.

She noted that Mindanao is still behind in development.  “We have to catch up because this is the first time we have a Mindanaoan president. Here in PEZA, it can only happen if we both address the economic programs,” she said.

She stressed that proclaiming idle lands in Mindanao as special economic zones will create social progress, development and peace and prosperity.

 Since her appointment by Duterte as the new PEZA Chief, Plaza has vigorously pushed for the transformation of all idle lands in the country into a specialized ecozone catering to a particular industry in that area. She envisioned to have one ecozone in one municipality, city or province in the country.

 She cited the economic and progress of LGUs that are hosting economic zones. At present, there are only 105 LGUs hosting ecozones out of over 1,000 municipalities and cities in the country.

She expressed hope that creating more ecozones in Mindanao can lift the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which continues to be the poorest regions in the country due to armed conflict.

 “The solution is not military, the solution is economic, use idle lands for peace and prosperity,” she pointed out.

The summit was the first in a series and Plaza expressed that more LGU leaders would join them in the next. She urged Mindanao leaders to identify idle lands whether owned by the LGU or the national government or state universities and privately owned lands that have the potential for conversion into ecozones.

For his part, Secretary Saidamen Balt Pangarungan of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos cited PEZA as one of the highest investment promotion agencies that continued to aggressively promote the creation of special ecozones to fully industrialize the country.

Pangarungan cited Administrative Order 18 of President Duterte for enabling the development of halal and for attracting Islamic banks to invest in Mindanao. AO 18 has banned new IT-BPO firms to locate in Metro Manila on efforts to push them to locate in the countryside to spread out development and employment opportunities.

The AO has enabled PEZA to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Bureau of Muslim Economic Affairs in July to allow the promotion and development of halal and explore potential of ecozones in Mindanao.

Based on PEZA data, the Philippines has over 30 million hectares of landholdings and 15 million hectares of these are timberlands but are also mostly idle because of the ban of the wood industry.

There are also 7 million hectares are agricultural lands, but most are idle while the country imports almost all food from rice, sugar and fruits.

There are also 8 million hectares of mining lands, but there is no local minerals processing resulting in the exports of all raw materials including soil.

With all these economic potentials, PEZA is promoting the creation of special economic zones for the indigenous industries such as mineral processing zone, agro processing, agro forestry, and tourism economic zones.