Bad news for Mindanaoans

Mindanao’s needs are as acute, if not more than any of the other regions.

September 2, 2022

Last week, the Department of Budget and Management in an annual ritual after the opening of Congress turned over tomes of printed copies of the proposed 2023 national budget to the leadership of the House of Representatives.

Under the Constitution, all budget bills must emanate from the House, it being vested with the “power of the purse,” the rationale being that congressmen are theoretically the direct representatives of the people in a democratic setting. Since it is the branch of government that raises revenues through taxes, tariffs, incomes, emoluments, etc. they must, by logic, be endowed with the power to appropriate and allocate them. By practice, the Senate will wait first for the approval by the House before it acts on the budget bill. However, nowadays, the Senate doesn’t wait and starts its own deliberations to speed up the budget process.

Congress therefore appropriates government expenditure for the incoming year by allocating them to the various programs and projects proposed by the various departments of government. Its importance cannot be overemphasized considering that the government operates through the budget. This signals the start of the lobbying, campaigning and jockeying for a bigger slice of the budget cake.

Mindanao has always been the “land of promise,” a mantra now corrupted to mean a victim of the promises by our policymakers. With the new dispensation and leadership of Congress, Mindanaoans are hoping that the decades-old discrimination and bias against it will be addressed through fair budget allocation.

But lo and behold, the current proposed budget is nothing short of the inequities in the past. Instead of the budget for Mindanao, the second largest island in the country, being increased, it was substantially shaved off. No plausible explanation was offered by the national leadership nor by the DBM helmed by a lady Secretary who is a Mindanaoan. The sad news was revealed on the first day of the deliberation of the 2023 proposed P5.268-trillion national budget in the House.

The media reported the discovery by Mindanaoan congressman Rufus Rodriguez that “under the 2023 National Expenditure Program from a P650-billion allocation this year, Mindanao is only slated to have P628-billion next year.”

He asked for the restoration of at least P22 billion of the current year for Mindanao, pointing out that the region is entitled to additional funds, “because based on the 2020 census, it had residents totaling 26.3 million, or 24 percent of the country’s population of 109.6 million.” Furthermore, he argued that Mindanao contributes 17 percent of the national yearly total output of products and services, which will entitle it to at least P895 billion.” Statistics show that seven out of the 10 poorest provinces in the country are located in Mindanao.

We call on Mindanaoan solons from both houses: Close ranks, stand up and show your indignation against this manifest discrimination. The region is rich with potential, being the source of food and raw materials for industries. All it needs is the building of infrastructure to unlock its potential and creating economic zones, like the Tawi-Tawi free port and economic zone, to expedite regional development.

Unfortunately, it is a sad commentary that those who wield power in the capital get a lion’s share of the budget, oblivious of the needs of the peripheral population outside the center of political power. Mindanao’s needs are as acute, if not more than any of the other regions. The increase in budget will go a long way in liberating them from the morass of poverty, health concerns, ignorance, unpeace and other social problems.

In a related report, it said that in past years, Mindanao has been receiving a budgetary crumb on the average of 11.46 percent of the total national budget, grossly disproportionate to Mindanao’s substantial contribution to the national economy. See the inequity? No wonder the region has been the sore spot in the country.

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