Friday, July 28, 2006

The Manila Times Launches New Section, The Moro Times

Peace and prosperity for Mindanao

TODAY is an important day for The Manila Times and the people of Mindanao for two reasons. First, we are launching the maiden issue of The Moro Times, the newest monthly section devoted to topics on development, peace, business opportunities and other national issues affecting that region.

This project was created with the help of leaders from the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that conducts a series of forums and recent issues relevant to bringing peace, development and democracy in Mindanao.

The Moro Times initially will publish every last Friday of the month, Friday being the day of worship for our Muslim brothers and sisters. We expect this section to grow in pages and frequency, perhaps to a daily, perhaps as a separate publication independent of The Manila Times.

Second, this project is important to the people of Mindanao and others, especially Muslim Filipinos. The Moro Times shall serve as a national platform for the views and aspirations of moderate Muslims and other ethnic groups in Mindanao. Hearing their views is important because democracy must be exercised and also because the voice of moderation is often drowned out in the national conversation, especially when the subjects move on to terrorism and national security.

The discussion on peace and terrorism certainly dominates the news and tends to portray a rather negative image of Muslims and non-Muslims in Mindanao.

In time we hope to correct this misperception so that we Filipinos would associate Mindanao and its people with freedom, democracy, family and our enduring values. The aim is to direct our collective attention not to what makes us different from each other but to what makes us the same.

One might ask, why give Mindanao special attention? Simply put, the problems of Mindanao are the problems of the nation. Together with the Sulu Archipelago, that region is home to about 20 million, or about 25 percent of the population. It is a mobile population. In Luzon alone, there are about one million Muslims and other “Mindanaoans.”

Mindanao is also a vital agricultural base. It accounts for 40 percent of the national food requirements and contributes about 30 percent to the national food trade. About a third of its land area of more than 102,000 square kilometers is devoted to agriculture.

On trade and investment, it also holds much promise. Mindanao is part of the Bimp-Eaga region—an economic cooperation project involving four east Asean countries: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

It is perhaps the appreciation of this huge potential that draws much of the foreign aid to this region. Indeed, the potential of economic returns is great if Mindanao can be developed.

True, there are a lot of “what ifs” when one talks about Mindanao. But of this we are certain: an underdeveloped Mindanao will slow down national growth, hold back economic progress and frustrate efforts to achieve peace and prosperity.

Like it or not, our lives and fortunes are interconnected, and poverty and unrest in one part influence the whole. There is much work to be done in Mindanao; there is much at stake.

The Manila Times, through The Moro Times, is proud to provide this forum for a closer look at the Southern Philippines. The rest is up to all Filipinos.

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