You read that right. Big business would probably be the last place to look at towards peace efforts, owing perhaps to the perception that big business thrives on competition and is, thus, not of the peaceful nor peace-giving sort.
But there you have it: big business gathering together, pledging what they can, all to develop one of the poorest provinces not just in Mindanao, but also in the rest of the country. Sulu.
Mention Sulu and a long-standing armed conflict comes to mind and, because of this, no one in his right mind would do business there. So, it’s a chicken-and-egg situation: the lack of a thriving local economy results in a breakdown of peace and order resulting in business not wanting to set up shop, and so forth.
This was the dilemma that former Sulu Governor and current Vice-Governor Abdusakur Tan presented to President Duterte. Immediately after their meeting, the President called on Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, Trade Secretary Mon Lopez, and Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship - GO NEGOSYO Founder Joey Concepcion to do something about this.
A townhall meeting was set with the President last Christmas to gather big business and MSMEs to see how they can help Sulu. At the end of the meeting, pledges were made for the development of Sulu, and the Negosyo Para Sa Kapayapaan Sa Sulu was well on its way to involve the private sector in assisting government with peace and development in the province.
Special mention must be made of the Project Sulu Coordinator from GO NEGOSYO, Ms. Ana Margarita “Ginggay” Hontiveros, who is as brave as she is beautiful flying in and out of Sulu to get things going on the ground. Ginggay, of course, is the sister of the equally brave and beautiful Senator Risa Hontiveros, a staunch champion of universal healthcare and human rights in the Senate.
Some of the pledges made were the following: The San Miguel Group under Ramon Ang promised to build a coal-fired power plant on the island province, rebuild an arts and trade school, and invest in a feed mill supply chain. Tycoon Lucio Tan will look into renewing PAL flights to Sulu. The Gokongwei Group pledged to help the coffee farmers as well as assist in housing efforts together with other groups like Gawad Kalinga.
The SM Group, represented by M.A.P. Management Man of the Year for 2016, Tessie Sy-Coson, was also present to provide whatever support they can to the initiative. Secretary Mon Lopez had earlier requested the mall operators to provide free space in their malls for the display and retail of Sulu products.
The MVP Group pledged to rehabilitate and expand 16 SMART mobile sites, build at least 40 houses with Gawad Kalinga over the next 2 years and provide for water and power services for these houses, consider a coconut processing plant, and provide for the hospital needs of the province.
In his remarks during the townhall meeting, President Duterte mentioned that Sulu had been neglected for so long and that if poverty can be addressed then perhaps the peace and order situation can also be addressed. “This is what I want to tell the nation, the President said. “You have to heed us people, guys from Mindanao because we are telling you the truth, you have to really transform this country.”
When the Sulu vice-governor spoke thereafter, he thanked the group and was surprised as to how fast the President reacted to his request.
Soon after the townhall, Chairman MVP met with Vice-Governor Sakur Tan to discuss how to move forward on the Group’s commitments.
This was the first time that big business was involved in peace and development efforts, and is another shining example of private-public partnership (PPP). If it all works out, as it shows to be, then this approach can well be replicated in other parts of the country.
That, in itself, is already a milestone for the President, not just on the development of the economy, but also on peace and order and poverty-alleviation.
We can only wish this project the very best. And do our best with it as well.
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