Sara Soliven De Guzman
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or BARMM (formerly ARMM) has the lowest Gross Domestic Product per capita – the market value of all goods and services among all regions in the country.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (GDP in 2017), the National Capital Region reported P6,016,249 (38% of national GDP, equivalent to Israel’s GDP); Calabarzon P2,316,356 (14.7% of national GDP, equivalent to Libya’s GDP); Central Visayas P1,032,639 (6.5% of national GDP, equivalent to Latvia’s GDP); Davao Region P728,807 (4.6% of national GDP, equivalent to Mali’s GDP); Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) P119,077 (0.8% of national GDP, equivalent to Guyana’s GDP).
Last Saturday, Akademyang Filipino hosted a forum on economic complexity. John Echauz, one of the speakers, shared the presentation made by Ricardo Hausmann, economic development professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. John pointed out an important factor on how countries land on the top level of attaining high Gross National Product. Everything basically boils down to the products and services offered. If they are very common products and services, you end up competing in the world market. If you have unique or highly complicated and diverse goods and services (being a rare commodity) then it is easier for a country to reign in the market. And the more complexity there is, the more “personbytes” (specialized people in the work) you have in completing the product, so the more valuable and expensive it becomes. Natural resources (such as oil, minerals) are top products that are not easily available, they can be sold at a premium. Assembling an airbus for instance is complex. Selling coconut products on the other hand, is not of great value because there are many competitors selling coconut in the world market.
By the way electronics are complex, diverse and in demand. I was as surprised as many in the audience that the Philippines has 60 percent of the world’s electronic capabilities, and right in this country we have world-class engineers who not only design and build but are also highly skilled problem solvers.
Anyway, what is my point? Mindanao is the promise land. It has the richest natural resources in the country. As Proverb 29:18 says: Where there is no vision, the people will perish. If we do not take care of Mindanao, the local pirates, sharks not to mention crocodiles will feast over her. If we do not lead the land to maximize its potential, we will waste it. In the end of the day, if we do not take grand steps for the many possibilities by developing the right foundation and structures, we shall wake up with shattered dreams.
I cannot forget the previous leader of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), the late Abul Khayr Alonto. He was a very hardworking man who was full of passion. His work as MinDA head came very natural. The people loved him, supported his cause and most importantly cooperated. They knew that he was serious and sincere in his efforts of liberating BARMM and making it a better place. For the Muslims, he was a true brother. His background gives us a glimpse of why he was dedicated in making MinDA work.
Who was Abul Khayr Alonto? He was born into a family of public servants that stretched as far as his foremost ancestor, Sultan Depertuan Qudratullah or Sultan Kudarat. He was a grandson of the first Muslim elected senator of the Philippines and signatory to the 1935 Philippine Constitution, Sultan sa Ramain Alauya Alonto; a son to the first elected governor of Lanao del Sur and first Muslim member of the Philippine Cabinet without portfolio as Commissioner to the Commission on National Integration (CNI) under President Garcia, Ambassador Abdul Ghaffur Madki Alonto; a nephew to Senator Ahmad Domocao Alonto who was a signatory to both the 1971 and 1987 Philippine Constitution and the first Muslim woman governor, Princess Tarhata Alonto-Lucman on his paternal side. On his maternal side, he was the grandson of one of the signatories of the 1935 Dansalan Declaration, Sultan sa Maamor Debaraten Dangcal, who signed the document with their blood to demand from the American Colonial Government the exclusion of Mindanao from the granting of independence to the Philippines, and asserted that the return of sovereignty to the people of Moroland is distinct and separate from the Philippines.
In 1965, Abul Khayr Alonto founded the largest Muslim based youth organization, the Lam Alif to create a one single voice for the Muslim students in Manila coming from different Muslim tribes of the Philippines. He was a first-year law student at San Beda College when the Jabiddah Massacre happened on March 18, 1968 that changed the course of his life and for the rest of the Bangsamoro.
In 1974, he was the highest Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) officer leading the defense of the Bangsamoro. In the same year, he chaired the new wing of the MNLF Northern Mindanao Command. It was Alonto who in a peril-laden back door journey to Malaysia in 1974 with 5 other MNLF officers, hand delivered the Manifesto of the 20,000 card carrying members of the Ansar Al Islam of the Philippines to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit Heads of States in Kuala Lumpur. This became the basis of the OIC Resolution No. 18 of 1974 that stated support for the aspiration of the Bangsamoro People for autonomy and urged the Philippine Government to negotiate peace. This is the mother of all peace agreements between the Philippine Government and all the Bangsamoro Army, the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It paved the way for the signing of the 1976 RP-MNLF Tripoli Agreement in Libya.
After the 2013 Lahad Datu stand off and the Zamboanga Siege, living members of the original MNLF Central Committee imposed upon him to take to the post as MNLF Chairman. He was appointed as chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) on September 2016.
In the two years and 8 months he was in office, he reinvigorated and strengthened ties with member countries of the BIMP-EAGA, laid the groundwork for 16 catalytic projects for Mindanao; duly approved by the President and his Cabinet and incorporated into the 2017-2022 NEDA Philippine Plan.
To his very last day, Abul was working towards attaining the Bangsamoro Cause which in his words are only two things, peace with justice and equitable development in Mindanao and the Philippine Nation. He was bullish in pushing for the revival of the Barter Trade, approval of the Law exempting travelers originating from Mindanao from paying Travel Tax; the Islamic Banking and Finance Law, and the Metro Davao Urban Plan. He lobbied to the ICC/NEDA, the Cabinet Economic Cluster and the President’s Cabinet for the Trans-Mindanao High Speed Railway Sytem, the establishment of Tawi-Tawi Free Port and Economic Zone and the Picong Agro-Industrial Economic Zone among others. Time may not have been on his side, but he laid down the dreams, backed up by research, complete staff work, and dedicated and relentless work, which are the seeds of reality, for the next generations to come.
Indeed, such big shoes to fill for Piñol, the new MinDa chairperson. Alonto understood the fundamental and crucial fabric that will catapult Mindanao and its islands into a progressive and peaceful region where people will enjoy the benefit of a rich and fertile land. His projects are meant for all peoples of Mindanao towards attaining a One Mindanao as we strengthen nation building and create a One Philippines.
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