Jan 21 2008
KIDAPAWAN CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 21, 2008) — 2007 brought “good tidings” to North Cotabato province, which is fast rising from devastations wrought by armed conflicts, and the area’s religious, political and business communities are confident more improvements will come this year.
The province, home to mixed-Muslim and Christian residents, has been included in this year’s list of top 30 provinces where there is good governance.
Records obtained from the Department of Agriculture in Region 12 also showed that North Cotabato has the widest tracks of idle lands developed into fruit, coconut and oil palm plantations from January to October this year, compared to surrounding provinces.
The office of the provincial agriculturist has pegged to 23,000 hectares of once hostile territories in the province — which communist and Moro rebels used as sanctuaries in the past — the total area converted into agricultural farms by North Cotabato farmers.
There was jubilation among Moro and Christian communities in the province when the National Statistics Coordination Board announced last July that North Cotabato was listed as one of the areas in the country where there is sound economic governance, as indicated by the recent rise of new establishments and the opening of big foreign-funded agricultural farms in its far-flung communities.
The expansion of businesses by local traders and the coming in of foreign investors, which started in 2006, generated employment for 68,000 people, many of them marginalized villagers in areas badly affected by the conflicts that rocked Central Mindanao in 2000 and in 2003.
“Credit goes to the Muslim and non-Muslim barangay folks of North Cotabato, to the peace advocates that helped us build solidarity among different sectors in the province, to President Arroyo and the international donor community,” said North Cotabato’s vice governor, Emmanuel Piñol.
Piñol said MILF leaders in the province and their counterparts in the military and the police, also played a key role in the socio-economic and political advancement of the province.
The synchronized local and senatorial election in the province last May 14 was the area’s most peaceful ever, according to Senior Supt. Lester Camba, provincial police director.
The province also ranked 11th in tax collection efficiency from among all of Mindanao’s local government units.Kidapawan City, which is the administrative seat of North Cotabato, has also risen as Central Mindanao’s new investments hub and the fruit capital of the region.
“Our agriculture-based economy has indeed improved that exotic fruits affordable only to rich people before are just sold so ordinarily along sidewalks because of our big harvest surplus, over and above the volume of what we have exported to Luzon and Visayas,” 40-year-old Minda Santiago, a fruit dealer, said in the Cebuano vernacular.
Traders in North Cotabato also noted an increase in production of rice and corn in the neighboring towns of Carmen, Kabacan, Pikit, Aleosan and Midsayap, worst affected by bloody military-MILF confrontations in recent years.
Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, himself a resident of Midsayap, said there has been a “zero” encounter between soldiers and MILF forces in the five towns since March this year.
“This could partly be attributed to the low-level peace initiatives of the military, the MILF and the local government units in these areas that local Muslim and Christian farmers are now tilling their lands peacefully, without fear of being displaced by armed conflicts,” Ando said.
North Cotabato Gov. Jesus Sacdalan, who started only as a lowly barrio farmer in his hometown of Alamada in the first district of the province, said there have been recent pledges of fund packages for the propagation of rubber trees by local farmers from the central office of the Department of Agriculture.
“Its not difficult for us, local officials, to convert North Cotabato into a progressive agricultural hub because about 80 percent of the incumbent local officials in the province are children of barrio farmers. We can understand better the feelings and the aspirations of our farming constituents,” Sacdalan said. (Jerick Wee)