Bato: Mindanao voice in Senate needed

For too long, Mindanao has languished as a neglected island-community; it is time that it becomes well-represented in the nation’s halls of decision-making.

This was the statement of former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, who is running for a seat in this year’s mid-term senatorial elections.

In a speech last Friday before a conference hosted by the Sovereign Tribal Council for Peace and Development in Butuan City, dela Rosa said he intends to elevate the concerns of Mindanao to the attention of national policymakers.

Federalism, he said, is among the key reforms being pushed by Mindanao leaders. He said he believed that a well-studied shift to a federal system of government will enable Mindanao and all other areas outside of Metro Manila the opportunity to harness their economic advantages and fully benefit from them. He added that such a dramatic change “will finally unleash Mindanao’s development potentials.”

The shift to federalism is also part of President Duterte’s domestic agenda.

Over the decades, Mindanao has lagged behind Luzon in terms of development. In 2015, government statisticians recorded that 59 percent of the residents in Muslim Mindanao were living below the poverty line. In Caraga, it was 43.9 percent; SOCCSKSARGEN, 44.5 percent; Northern Mindanao, 40 percent; and Zamboanga Peninsula, 39 percent. Even the Davao Region, considered to be the more developed area in Mindanao, posted 26.7 percent.

All these Southern provinces posted higher rates compared to the country’s average poverty incidence at 26.3 percent.

Previous studies also reveal Mindanao’s lack of national support in terms of infrastructure development, although last year, finance secretary Carlos Dominguez III said that Mindanao was finally “at the front and center” of the government’s ambitious infrastructure build-up, with the Zamboanga Peninsula alone getting P23 billion to finance road and other civil works.