Peace process improves biz climate in Maguindanao PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 26 May 2014 13:54

For local merchants, “positive energies” have started to configure into a good business climate in Central Mindanao as a result of the continuing interaction among Muslim, Christian and lumad folks, and the religious, political and business communities helping each other make the Mindanao peace process succeed.

Two events on Thursday catalyzed the optimism of traders in the area — the first visit ever by Muhaquer Iqbal of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the residence of Cardinal Orlando Quevedo in Cotabato City, and the executive meeting in Buluan town of the National League of Vice Mayors, which was presided over by its president, Manila Vice-Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno.

Moreno, along with hundreds of visiting vice mayors from Visayas, Luzon and Metro Manila, also toured the site of the Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao Massacre in Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, accompanied by Buluan Vice-Mayor Jhazzer Mangudadatu and his patriarch, Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.

Moreno had told Maguindanao local officials to move on from the sadness brought about by the massacre, but never to forget the incident as the spiritual force that ushered in political democracy in the province. He said he was fascinated with how Gov. Mangudadatu has been addressing underdevelopment in the province by empowering the local peasant and fisherfolk sectors.

Gov. Mangudadatu willingly hosted the meeting of the national league of vice mayors in Maguindanao to show to participants how the investment atmosphere in the province improved in recent years, as a result of the provincial government’s diplomatic and socio-economic activities, and the religious enforcement by the military and the MILF of the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities.

Moreno had told reporters he was impressed with the current security situation in Maguindanao, which he described as “ripe” for viable agricultural ventures. He said the national league of vice mayors will support the planned development of the immediate surroundings of Barangay Salman, scene of the Maguindanao Massacre” into a 2,000-hectare Cavendish banana farm by Malaysian and European investors.

Moreno said he will make known to his friends in Metro Manila’s business community the viability of putting up businesses in the province now, under a governor who is focused on socio-economic activities meant to address underdevelopment, in an area once plagued by conflicts and controlled by warlords opposing economic development for fear of losing political dominion over their impoverished constituents.

Pete Marquez, a senior member of different business organizations in Cotabato City, said Moreno’s promise to help lure foreign investors complement the advocacy for “culture of peace and entrepreneurship” by Quevedo, who is also archbishop of Cotabato, and Gov. Mangudadatu, who is chairman of the Maguindanao’s inter-agency peace and order council.

Central Mindanao folks also witnessed Thursday an event that, for many, would bolster the unity of Central Mindanao’s Muslim and Christian groups.

Businessmen are convinced the first visit ever of Iqbal to the residence of Quevedo on Thursday, and the tour of Moreno and hundreds of other vice mayors  in Maguindanao could help bring in more investments into the province.

Iqbal, chief negotiator of the MILF, and presiding chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, even gifted Quevedo a token, a shiny “talam,” a brass serving plate that symbolizes Moro hospitality, while at the Bishop’s Palace in Cotabato City.

Administratively, Cotabato City is under Region 12, but is geographically located inside the first district of Maguindanao, a component province of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The city is a major trading hub connected, economy-wise, to the markets in all of Maguindanao’s 36 towns.

Baisan Sema, president of the Muslim Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Kutawato, Inc., said she and members of her group were delighted with Iqbal’s gesture, which disproved speculations that the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) would only benefit Mindanao’s Muslim communities and could possibly marginalize non-Muslims politically.

The CAB is the final peace compact between the government and the MILF, signed in Malacañang on March 27, 2014 by Iqbal and his government counterpart, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.

“Our Non-Muslim business partners and contacts outside of Cotabato City and abroad will feel safe dealing with us. They have closely been monitoring all developments regarding the Mindanao peace process,” Sema said.

Iqbal was accompanied to Quevedo’s residence, a symbolic icon of Christianity in a predominantly Moro area, by peace activists and members of the city’s local business community, among them Mohammad “Em” Pasigan of the Bangsamoro Business Club, and hardware store owner Ongpin Yu Ekey, who is of mixed Moro-Chinese descent.

A leader of a local Christian community, Pastor Troy Cordero, who was born and raised in Cotabato City, said continuous interaction among Muslim clerics, top officials of the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and Central Mindanao’s Christian political and religious leaders will hasten the region’s recovery from economic retrogression caused by conflicts in past decades.