MANILA, Philippines – The country’s most prominent businessmen and business groups flocked to Malacañang Palace on Monday, December 19, for the benefit of a small, embattled province in the southern Philippines: Sulu.
Tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan, SM’s Tessie Sy-Coson, taipan Lucio Tan and his son Michael Tan were among the businessmen present at the “Negosyo Para Sa Kapayapaan sa Sulu: Christmas Town Hall with the President.”
In the same hall as the country’s billionaires were small agribusiness entrepreneurs from Sulu, Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto, local government executives, and Cabinet secretaries.
The guest speaker for the event was none other than President Rodrigo Duterte who, according to Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, kickstarted the Save Sulu project by ordering Piñol to visit Sulu last September and see what could be done to help improve the lives of farmers and fishermen there.
Piñol quickly got in touch with Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion who thought of promoting entrepreneurship and linking Sulu farmers and fishermen to big businesses.
The idea snowballed with more and more business groups pledging support in various ways.
Below is the list of pledges made:
- Rehabilitate and expand the current 16 Smart cell sites in Sulu
- Build at least 40 houses in the next 2 years
- Manila Water and Meralco to provide water and power to communities
- Donate medical equipment to Sulu hospitals, train Sulu doctors in MVP-owned hospitals, provide scholarships for Sulu residents to get medical degrees, cooperation between MVP-owned hospitals in Zamboanga with Sulu hospitals
San Miguel Corporation
- 50-megawatt coal-fired power plant
- Rebuild school of arts and trade
- Feed mill supply chain
Bounty Fresh Food Incorporated
- Poultry farms for livelihood
- Chooks to Go outlets
- Source carrageenan from Sulu seaweed farmers
- 106 houses pledged by various donors
Lucio Tan Group, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Incorporated (FFCCCII), and Representive Arthur Yap
- 32 classrooms
KAPATID Agri Group
- Training for farmers
- Library and literacy programs in GK Kapatid villages
- School supplies for at least 100,000 students
Aside from the commitments above, trade chief Lopez said the government wants to partner with top retailers to help Sulu farmers and fishermen earn more income.
His department has asked big companies like SM, Robinsons, Adobo Dragon Group, Rustan’s Group, and Puregold “to allocate a specific space in their malls for free” to make products of small Sulu agri-entrepreneurs, farmers, and fishermen accessible to more buyers, said Lopez.
These “GO Local” stores are intended to “provide a sustainable market for the agri sector, especially for our poor farmers,” he added.
Duterte is also giving direct assistance to the initiative with his contribution of P1 billion from the Office of the President’s budget to be used for loans for micro and small entrepreneurs.
P50 million of this will be just for Sulu projects and entrepreneurs.
“For the Sulu projects, we are happy to allocate P50 million for the Sulu farmers and all our projects that we will do for Sulu to jumpstart the economy in Sulu… If we do well, we can do another P50 million for that area,” said Lopez.
Agriculture chief Piñol, meanwhile, said his department is giving tractors and farming implements to farmers for free and providing them with training.
Former Sulu governor Abdusakur Mihail Tan thanked the government and private sector for their help for his province, a group of islands unfortunately more famous for being a stronghold of terrorists and kidnap-for-ransom groups than for its rich natural resources and beauty.
Tan said he regrets the 67% poverty incidence rate in Sulu which is way above the national average of 21%.
“We need education. Even the criminals would like to see their children have medical attention, to have livelihood, to have homes, to have roofs over their heads, to have food on their tables. So we have been saying that war alone can never solve the problem. We need to address poverty,” said Tan.
FFCCCII president Angel Yu agreed that Sulu has “so much potential” for business and tourism but that the security situation has “hindered” its growth. (READ: Risk and relaxation: What it’s like to tour Sulu)
Duterte, in his speech, repeated his firm belief that “no progress or development can come to a country if there is no law and order.”
Will the Duterte administration bring peace and prosperity to Sulu?
Sulu residents pinned their hopes on the Mindanaoan President during the last elections when he won 80% of their votes. – Rappler.com