Monday, August 20, 2007

Marshall Plan for Mindanao

In considering the requirements for the rehabilitation of Europe, the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines and railroads was correctly estimated, but it has become obvious during recent months that this visible destruction was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy.US Secretary of State George C. Marshall, in his June 5, 1947, speech launching the “Marshall Plan” that rehabilitated Europe after World War II.

SPEAKER Jose de Venecia Jr. recently called for a “Marshall Plan” in Mindanao to solve the ongoing conflict in the area once and for all, particularly in certain places like Basilan and Maguindanao. It’s a call that is supported by Sen. Gregorio Honasan, who, as a former soldier, saw extensive action in Mindanao a few decades ago.

De Venecia said Mindanao needs a P46-billion five-year program to build infrastructure, schools, hospitals and farm-to-market roads to be financed by donations from the United States, Europe, Scandinavian countries, Australia, Japan and our neighbors in Southeast Asia. The program, he says, will be “electrifying and effective” such that rebels will be lured from their lairs to rejoin mainstream society.

Such a grand vision for Mindanao, and certainly Mindanaoans are hoping the Speaker would follow up on his pronouncements. But all this talk about a Marshall Plan for Mindanao should be sounding like a broken record for Mindanaoans now as politicians in the past have always parroted it like a magic spiel every time firefights between rebels and soldiers, which dislocated thousands of civilians, erupted. Speaker de Venecia always talked about it during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos. President Ramos actually moved a step further by commissioning the drafting of the Mindanao 2000 Framework Plan, but all those efforts came to naught as the House of Representatives, then headed by de Venecia, didn’t provide the money.

In March 2003, Foreign Secretary Blas Ople also mouthed the same thing following a major conflagration in Maguindanao, promising a $100-million expenditure program to “accelerate the region’s economic and social development.” Nothing really came out of the said pronouncement. And lately, following recent ambushes of soldiers in Sulu and Basilan that claimed the lives of more than two dozen, de Venecia is singing the tune again. Is he serious this time? Should we now start to rejoice?

We certainly hope so, because an honest-to-goodness economic deal for Mindanao would surely go a long way in addressing this age-old scourge that has been stifling development, not only in Mindanao but the entire country.

In the last decade or more, our neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region have been growing fast and have been lifting up millions of people out of poverty. Yet in all those years, the Philippines hardly made a dent on poverty and joblessness simply because our resources are stuck and wasted in a low-intensity but festering war.

The Philippines has also not been able to attract sizeable foreign direct investments as the continuing stream of bad news out of Sulu and Maguindanao have kept us out of the investors’ radar. We will only be taken seriously by the investor community if it sees that the leadership of the country is serious about addressing the age-old “Mindanao conundrum.”

Supposing the government and the international-donor community indeed are able to muster the will to launch a Marshall Plan for Mindanao, how should we proceed? We should take cues from George Marshall, former US Secretary of State, who launched the original Marshall Plan that rehabilitated much of Europe after World War II.

In a speech at Harvard University on June 5, 1947, Marshall said: “It is already evident that, before the United States government can proceed much further in its efforts to alleviate the situation and help start the European world on its way to recovery, there must be some agreements among the countries of Europe as to the requirements of the situation and the part those countries themselves will take in order to give proper effect to whatever action might be undertaken by this government.”

“It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of the Europeans. The initiative, I think, must come from Europe.”

Translation: the first step would be for the different stakeholders in Mindanao to come together and draw up a grand plan with a clear vision, objectives and detailed programs and projects, together with national and regional planning agencies, the private sector, civil society and the donor agencies. A participatory approach should be necessary to ensure that most sectors of Mindanao society should have a sense of ownership on the outcome of the planning process.

In fact, the participatory-planning process itself should be part of the healing process that Mindanao has to undergo to build “social capital” and ensure sustainable peace. And for very practical reasons, it’s necessary to ensure that programs and projects are those that would have the greatest social return.

From a cursory look at the basic statistics, it’s quite obvious that Mindanao, especially those in areas of conflict, has long been deprived of the basic necessities of life: potable water, sanitation, health services and basic education. A truly participatory-planning process would ensure that programs to provide these basic necessities would reach their intended beneficiaries.

Despite their limited resources, government agencies actually tried to provide these basic necessities, albeit incrementally. But massive corruption at the local levels and cultural baggages like “rido” (clan wars) always came in the way of progress. Take note that after the “peace process” with the Moro National Liberation Front, the national government and foreign donor agencies actually poured billions into the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, but nothing tangible has materialized from the supposed spending.

So, if there’s one big component that should be included in a Mindanao Marshall Plan, it is massive training in local governance and extensive buildup of human capital. It takes two parties to stop trading in lethal ordnance. But it takes a bigger, Mindanao-wide army of public- and private-sector managers, entrepreneurs and civil-society leaders to usher in broad-based development and progress. (Note: An original version of this was prepared as editorial for BusinessMirror, 21 August 2007)

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