Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 24 June 2015


Three major urban areas serve as magnets for Mindanao’s economic heartland: Cagayan de Oro, Davao, and General Santos. These magnetos collectively provide transport logistics and the industrial and commercial support to the growth of Mindanao’s economy.

I come to this conclusion after criss-crossing 2,000 kilometers of roads on this island. During that travel, I immersed myself in talks with businessmen, public officials, and common citizens. Interactions also involved talks with NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) regional staff.

The room for growth in Mindanao is very large. Mindanao contributes only 14 percent of the nation’s GDP (gross domestic product), while its population accounts for 21 percent of the national population.

The economic hinterland of Mindanao. The agricultural heartland of Mindanao is also its hinterland. This land was once full of forests and sparse human settlements. It is also nature’s receptacle for minerals that attracts risk-seekers.

Past domestic policies encouraged the migration of people from our crowded islands and moved them to land of economic opportunity.

Today, the fertile valleys that comprise this hinterland are connected by a system of roads that enables them to get to any of the three growth points mentioned above.

How the road network expanded. During the early decades of our political independence, logging activity expanded, helped build and left in their aftermath networks of trails and logging roads that would give the leads toward the system of national roads.

Government planners at the national and provincial levels used these logging roads as guides or basis for the more intricate permanent roads of the island. During the 1960s through to the early 1980s, the government undertook the construction of the major national road networks and added irrigation and hydro-power networks which today provide the physical infrastructure base of the land.

The need to raise corn and rice output for the nation’s consumption also led to the opening of more land for agriculture. Therefore, high demand for staple crops in the country also perked up agriculture in Mindanao.

Today, farm output is much varied. Rice and corn are important crops being cultivated in this heartland. But so are fruits and vegetables. Fruit trees abound: mangoes, durian, coffee, cacao and other native fruits. It is also the land of bananas, pineapples, coconut, rubber, palm oil, and timber farms. A substantial part of the national requirements in these produce is provided by Mindanao.

Let me describe briefly each of these geographic magnets, starting from the youngest of them.

General Santos (in South Cotabato). The position of General Santos in western Mindanao accelerated only after the seaport and major road transports were expanded following the 1970s. Government’s major infrastructure further widened the ports and road networks, especially following the entry of a major pineapple plantation in the region.

The expansion of the port city with a large fish port enabled the region to attract the delivery of catch along the fish-rich water lanes between Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippine waters. As a result, this city has also become a magnet for fish processing industries.

Much faster growth ensued with the enlargement and opening of agriculture in the wider valley close to the area, connected by roads and communications network. This road network eventually connected the heartland of Mindanao to General Santos, Davao and Cagayan de Oro.

Earlier, General Santos was part of the migration settlements that moved new population from Luzon and the Visayas. The major inducement, then as now, was the land of promise. In the 1970s came the Dole pineapple plantation in nearby Polomolok, South Cotabato.

Davao City. This port city has an area large enough to be called a province. It is the radial point of development of the Davao provinces – all four of them. Davao was the first colonial port city designed for economic expansion in the southernmost stretch of island during American colonial times.

During the colonial period, Davao was connected to the north mainly through early trails and frontier roads that opened new economic areas. By independence, these roads were gradually expanded from the port, growing radially further toward the larger hinterland. Logging companies led the way in entering the extensive forests so they could exploit them.

The logging roads led human settlements and farms to follow the trail and thus, the hinterland was populated and cultivated. These roads also helped to open huge valleys of for agriculture.

Today, Davao is the center of the banana industry, the fruit trees of many kinds. Livestock and poultry in this region is a significant component of the country’s output.

Davao has also become not only a trading outpost of these important sectors but has also attracted industries that complement the needs of the existing agricultural industries.

Cagayan de Oro. This urban center is the oldest of the magnetos. Its proximity to the other Visayan islands and Luzon, and its central location in the past made it also a favored location for private education.

Geographically, Cagayan de Oro is wedged in by mountains that formed a plateau that is highly suitable within the highlands of Bukidnon. The first large plantation in pineapples was founded in the area by the then American-owned Del Monte before the war. The cannery was established in the Cagayan de Oro side and output was shipped from the port of Cagayan de Oro.

The early postwar years when the country began earnest efforts at industrial expansion and forestry exploitation also immensely benefitted the city.

The coastal highway went east toward Agusan and Surigao provinces, leading to an area rich in minerals, forestry, and lowlands for rice and corn agriculture.

To the west of Cagayan de Oro, also on the coastal areas was the industrial development that took place in Iligan. Encouraged by inexpensive hydroelectric power established at the Maria Cristina Falls area, a number of important industries were set up in Iligan during the 1950s and the1960s.

Further westward and southwest were the agricultural areas of the Lanao Region and western Misamis. The markets of these agricultural produce were directed to the Cagayan region for processing and for marketing the output, or in transit to other developed markets of the country in the Visayas and Luzon. These inevitably transited through the port of Cagayan de Oro.

For years, these independent developments helped to create a larger expansion of Cagayan de Oro as a metropolis for the region