By Hernani De Leon

Investors should review their plans in Mindanao based on latest gross regional domestic product figures released by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB). It’s not just this year, but for about a decade now Northern Mindanao has outpaced the Davao Region as the most progressive area in the island based on growth and per capita income figures.

Time to look at Mindanao’s markets again to fill in those gaps. Instead of investing billions of pesos in new shopping malls in Davao, big developers from Metro Manila should explore opportunities in Cagayan de Oro and in Iligan. The two cities are the most progressive and have the highest per capita income in Northern Mindanao, if not the entire island.

Why haven’t property firms built medium-rise condominiums in Cagayan de Oro when units in such buildings are reportedly selling like hotcakes in Davao? Medium-rise condominium units would surely sell faster in Northern Mindanao’s urban centers — markets that have higher affordability as official statistics suggest.

If official estimates are accurate, Northern Mindanao’s workers are being short-changed for years now. In this light, labor groups in Cagayan de Oro should immediately check their data and press for a higher minimum wage over what their Davao counterparts are receiving.

Davao’s minimum wage is P265, the highest in Mindanao, compared to Northern Mindanao’s P256. For their part, jeepney drivers should also ask for a minimum fare of P7 not P6.50 to be at par with Davao and Metro Manila colleagues.

Last week, Davao business leaders have asked officials of the National Economic and Development Authority on the region’s perennially lower growth rate compared to other regions in Mindanao. They wanted to know which sectors need to be promoted in the near term for the economy to grow faster and generate more jobs.

The concern is valid since actual experiences seem to defy official data. The situation, in fact, has been an unsolved puzzle through the years and that this issue has been raised in this column several years ago.

In 2006, the statistical board reported that Zamboanga Peninsula posted the highest growth in Mindanao the previous year led by the agriculture and fishery sectors. Unfortunately, reports from this paper’s correspondent in 2005 showed Zamboanga’s fishery sector had reeled from high fuel cost resulting in mass layoffs, the worst the industry has experienced in years.

The region’s fishery industry had even asked for concessions from the President to save local businesses. So, where did the NSCB obtain its figures that showed fishery was Zamboanga’s growth prompter in 2005 when its output actually declined?

On the other hand, Northern Mindanao is definitely a very competitive region and, certainly, has success stories to share. It is the only region in the southern island with a legitimate industrial belt that extends from the coastal areas of Misamis Oriental to Lanao del Norte. A traveler between Davao and Northern Mindanao could easily see which of the two regions is more economically advanced.

A few years ago, a briefing conducted by the Department of Energy showed that Davao Region, an agricultural economy, corners about 40% of Mindanao’s total power supply. Northern Mindanao with its industrial belt has a lesser share.

So, where’s the problem? Either there is overreporting or underreporting of figures from the regional units that were undetected by statisticians in Manila, or the NSCB is operating a faulty system.

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