Ma. Cristina Falls in Iligan City
Ma. Cristina Falls in Iligan City

With abundant raw materials and cheaper power, the area bids fair to become one of the country’s richest.

Whenever people from Northern Mindanao are compared to those from the Davao Region in the south, a sense of competitiveness surfaces. Northern Mindanaoans tend to show off the best of their region and highlight the successes of Cagayan de Oro, the region’s premier city.

Oscar Moreno, governor of Misamis Oriental province, offers an explanation: Davao and Cagayan de Oro (along with Zamboanga) were the first of Mindanao’s oldest cities to become progressive. They are now the major regional centers vying for investments in trade, commerce, and industry, and are the prime locations of educational institutions, financial centers, and government offices. “There’s a healthy rivalry between us,” says Moreno, whose province is in Northern Mindanao.

STRATEGIC LOCATION

Northern Mindanao prides itself on its strategic location. Easily accessible to key cities like Manila and Cebu, it is the entry and exit point to and from the rest of Mindanao. With the existing Misamis Oriental-Bukidnon highway, the movement of goods and people to the southern cities of Davao and General Santos over land has become fast and more efficient, taking only about 5 to 7 hours. The other route, which entails traveling around the island, takes about 36 hours more.

Add to that the fact that this region hosts the main power sources for the whole of Mindanao—the six hydroelectric plants in Agus River (667 megawatts) in Iligan (with 1 under construction), powered by the 320-foot-high Maria Cristina falls, and the hydroelectric plant in Pulangi River (255 megawatts) in Bukidnon. These power plants meet more than 90 percent of all the power needs of Mindanao. Since they are hydroelectric plants which harness power from natural resources, energy cost is lower not only because of cheaper maintenance expenses, but also because they don’t incur the headache of skyrocketing costs of imported crude oil. Equally important, they are less of a pollutant.

FUEL FOR INDUSTRIES

It was because of these power sources that industries sprouted in the region, starting with Iligan City. The resulting economic activity spilled over to its neighbors, like Cagayan de Oro City in the east, which became the rest and recreation center for the region’s growing middle class.

Northern Mindanao’s performance can be attributed to its having a good tax base. About 70 percent of its local revenues come from income and property taxes, and only about 30 percent from business taxes. “This means our tax base is wide and that the income level of our people is above average,” explains Casimira Balandra, former National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Regional Director for Region 10. One reason is that the tax-mapping project has already been implemented, thus it is easier for revenue officers to determine how much tax income is due from properties and businesses. The region also boasts of a 24-percent savings rate, much higher than the national average of 15 percent.

The priority projects are in place particularly infrastructure. This is crucial because Northern Mindanao is a major trading area for agricultural raw materials and processed goods, including those from South and Central Mindanao.

Construction of the Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental is now ahead of schedule of its January 2012 opening.

The seaport in Cagayan de Oro is highly congested and is handling more than twice its capacity. Expansion plans have been implemented. To augment it, the Mindanao Container Terminal (MCT) at the nearby PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate started operations in 2004. It is a seven-hectare state-of-the-art container yard with an annual handling capacity of 270,000 container vans, far bigger than Cagayan de Oro port’s 30,000-van capacity.

The MCT has a 300-meter-long, 12-meter-deep quay, deeper than Manila ports’ seven meters and Cebu’s eight meters. Thus, according to Phividec officials, the MCT in the future can accommodate mother ships, or the colossal trading ships that bring bulk goods from the US and Europe. At the moment only feeder ships are coming into the Philippines, not only because of berthing limitations of the major ports but also because the volume of goods is not yet enough to justify bidding for the mother ships to come over. This can be done “perhaps eight to 10 years from now, when the region’s industries have become more developed, have further improved their productivity, and can better consolidate and market their goods.

One way to hasten the movement of goods to and from MCT is to improve the roads leading to it. For example, the road that connects Bukidnon and MCTP today is a zigzag, which is dangerous for trucks with container vans. This is the main reason why the Alae-Tagoloan By-pass Road was planned. Because it is a new road opening, negotiations with affected lot owners for the right-of-way remain to be the biggest obstacle, aside of course from funds.

BLESSED BY NATURE

The region has a lot of natural resources it can harness to further improve its economy.

Northern Mindanao has an abundant supply of vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish. The province of Bukidnon is considered the region’s food basket, being host to midland and highland plantations for pineapple, banana, and sugarcane. Scenic farms cover rolling terrains, valleys, plateaus, and cloud-capped hills. Bukidnon is home to the vast plantations of corporate farms like Lapanday, Dole, and Del Monte. A few years ago, growers of high-value vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, bell pepper, sweet peas, sweet corn, cauliflower, and tomatoes banded together so they could compete as a group in the markets of Cebu and Manila (the latter dominated by suppliers from Baguio). Because of the group’s growing capacity and aggressive marketing, its vegetable production has increased significantly.

With spacious grazing lands, abundant feeds, and location in a typhoon-free area, livestock farms (for chickens, pigs, cows, and even exotic animals like ostriches) are also flourishing.

A few decades ago, the economy of Northern Mindanao was highly dependent on agricultural activities. Because of access to cheap power, Northern Mindanao became attractive for investors to put up processing plants. The convergence of raw materials and processing industries added value to its agricultural products, thus hastening it economic growth.

There is a concentration of agro-industrial activities in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental. The Philippine Veterans Investment Development Corp. (Phividec), a 3,000-hectare industrial estate in Misamis Oriental, the largest in the country, hosts not only agro-industrial firms that obtain their raw materials in nearby provinces, but also heavy industries like glass and wood manufacturers. It employs more than 2,000 people.

With the Shipyard Project of Hanjin expected to hire around 20,000 workers, the economic growth of the region is expected to spur new developments in all other business fronts.

(with excerpts from an article written by Lala Rimando)

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