Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Heart of the Philippines

           Considering its strategic location as the gateway from Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao, the island of Mindoro, especially Oriental Mindoro, can be called--following the advertising campaign of Taiwan--the "Heart of the Philippines."   The seventh largest island in the country, home to the two provinces of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, with a total land area of 1.1 million hectares, the island of Mindoro literally deserves its name as the "Mina de Oro" or "Goldmine."  There are few islands in the entire Archipelago that contain practically all the sunrise industries of the country within its small territory:  agribusiness, tourism, mining, infrastructure, energy, logistics, construction and real estate.   Its greatest advantage at the moment is that it is already a major food basket for the entire country.  Oriental Mindoro is a major supplier of calamansi, saba, banana, and rice to the Metro Manila area and Calabarzon as well as increasingly, thanks to the Philippine Nautical Highway, to the southern islands.  Calapan City, the capital of Oriental Mindoro, is the point of entry of the Strong Republic Nautical Highway while the Dangay Port in the Municipality of Roxas serves as the gateway to Panay and other southern islands of the Philippines.  The province also boasts of a small airport in the town of Pinamalayan which can be developed into an entry point for foreign tourists.  That airport would be perfect for a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project under the present Administration.  It can also qualify for the open skies policy that can bring foreign airlines, like those from South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and other Asian airlines directly to the province.

          With the enlightened leadership it has had for at least the last twenty years, the Local Government Unit will have the ability to work with all the stakeholders in the province to work out all the conditions to allow sustainable mining without harming the potentials for tourism and agribusiness development.  The mineral resources of Oriental Mindoro include gold, nickel, marble, and coal.  Its nickel deposits are considered to be among the largest in the world today.  As former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo remarked once, "Nickel can be to the Philippines

what oil is to Saudi Arabia."  Despite the strong objections of some sectors in civil society to mining, I am sure that the LGU officials, civil society and the Church in the province will be able to work out a reasonable arrangement that will guarantee that mining can be undertaken without harming the physical environment and protecting the welfare of the indigenous peoples in the areas affected.  The province is one of the most politically mature in which for decades there has been constant dialogues with all the stakeholders affected by economic development efforts. There is enough awareness among all that extreme positions can only ultimately harm the poor and the underemployed in the province by preventing much needed capital resources to enter the province.

          More than ten years ago, local officials at both the provincial and municipal levels agreed on a ten-point development roadmap for the year 2020.  The elements of this long-term plan are environment and natural resources; agro-industrial development; power and energy; infrastructure; transport and communications; tourism (including retirement and medical tourism); education, youth and sports; health and social services; housing and settlements and livelihood and employment. The provincial government has been organizing investment summits to which are invited both local and foreign investors who will be the prime movers for attaining the long-term vision in the priority areas.  Chinese, Saudi Arabian and Korean investors, among others, have expressed their interest in the power and energy, agribusiness, aquaculture and tourism and real estate sectors.   Already a major real estate development called Neo-Calapan has been launched in a 60-hectare property in the middle of the provincial Capital.  This project is a residential-commercial complex that will include 3,000 to 4,000 housing units for low-medium and high-end market in the province of Oriental Mindoro and the surrounding provinces.  It will include a clubhouse with swimming pools, function halls, and sports facilities.  There will be a Robinson Commercial Complex within the development. 

          The most important feature of the "Mindoro Advantage" is the abundance of water in the province, considering the forecast of resource specialists that the most critical shortage of resources in the next decade or so will no longer be energy, but water.  The province has two fresh-water lakes, Naujan (8,275 hectares) and Caluangan (150 hectares).  It has vast marine resources, its provincial coastline extending 342.4 kilometers, spanning 12 municipalities, 1 city and 112 coastal barangays.  The province has also 3,196 hectares of brackish waters and 200 hectares of freshwater fishponds.  Aquaculture can be a major export sector, especially to the Northeast Asian economies like China, South Korea and Japan.  The major species are tanigue, tambakol, malasugi, mamsa, lapu-lapu, galunggong, tuna, herrings, hasa-hasa, kalapato, caranx, dalagang bukid, alumahan, bisugo, samaral, anchovies, and sardines.  Already, a group of Chinese investors from Shanghai, represented by Eco Green Farm, has started an aquaculture project with a plan to expand up to 1,000 hectares for tilapia farming.

          Oriental Mindoro can really be described as the Heart of the Philippines because of the pivotal role that food production will play in the coming years when the challenge to the whole world is the rising trend in food prices.  With improvements in the road network, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities and transport and logistics, Oriental Mindoro will be a major food basket not only for the Philippines but for food-short countries in the East Asian region. For comments, my email address is bvillegas@uap.edu.ph.