Mindanao Solons Form United Front
Byline: MARIO S. CASAYURAN
Senators and congressmen of Mindanao crossed party lines yesterday to form the Mindanao Legislative Caucus (MLC) and started to draft an action plan to press the national leadership to give a bigger share to Mindanao for its longsought economic and social development.
The only two senators from Mindanao - Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. and administration Sen. Robert Z. Barbers - led the orgaization of the MLC attended by 20 of the 43 congressmen in Mindanao, Basilan and Sulu who complained that Mindanao is being given a very low budget allocation as reflected in the 2002 national budget.
They adopted a motion that they formally ask President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to increase the budget for Mindanao as they agreed that any changes in the preparation of the national budget for 2003 should be initiated by them at the earliest possible time by holding a dialogue with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
Pimetel and Barbers threw their support behind proposals that the national government initiate a mini-Marshall Plan for the economic development of Mindanao which, if implemented properly, would result in a peaceful Southern Philippines that would engender accelerated economic and social progrss.
The mini-Marshall plan for Mindanao was being pushed by Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel F. Zubiri and Lanao del Sur Rep. Faysah Maniri Racman-Dumarpa.
"We must act as one. In spite of religious differences, we are a power to be reckoned with. We shall not be treated as second class citizens," Barbers told his colleagues from Mindanao.
Mindanao was given a budget of P92.9 billion or 11.9 percent of the national budget while Luzon was given P186.3 billion or 78 percent based on Malacanang's reasoning that Luzon has a bigger population than Mindanao, Barbers pointed out.
If population is the only criterion, Mindanao would never come up to the level of development of Luzon which has twice the number of people living in Mindanao, Pimentel said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Manuel Villar, the House of Representatives speaker in the 11th Congress, agreed with the Mindanao legislators that there indeed is a need to pour more funds to Mindanao which had been billed as the "Island of Promise."
The MLC meeting, held at the Manila Yacht Club in Manila, was presided jointly by Senators Barbers and Pimentel and Deputy House Speaker Gerry A. Salapuddin of Basilan, an island south of Zamboanga City, which is the birthplace of the Abu Sayyaf group. …