MANILA – Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, Mimaropa Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC) head, on Tuesday said the government’s immediate response to every problem under President Rodrigo Duterte has led to relentless efforts to curb insurgencies and establish a more progressive economy particularly in Region 4-B.
"Para tayong nagising sa isang bagong Pilipinas sa pamumuno ni Pangulong Duterte, kung dati ay kibit-balikat o kaya'y nagpapaubaya -- ang naging tugon ngayon ay agarang aksyon (It is as if we woke up to a new Philippines under President Duterte. If previously shrugged or ignored, the response now is immediate action),” Cusi said during the 'Regional Pre-State-of-the Nation Address (SONA) Series’ at the Bulwagang Panlalawigan of the Provincial Capitol Grounds in Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro.
Cusi highlighted the developments and improvements in Mimaropa (Mindoro Oriental and Occidental, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan) region, "bringing the people a more comfortable and secured life."
"This is part of the government being accountable to what we have been doing for the last five years," Cusi said. “It is President Roa Duterte’s desire that every Filipino live the life they aspire for to enjoy freedom to achieve sustainable development.”
Cusi said the government continues to lay the groundwork on peace security in the region by institutionalizing programs and projects through the RTF-ELCAC.
The government, he said, was able to make Marinduque and Romblon free from insurgency, allowing the surrender of 111 former rebels, neutralized 115 communist terrorist groups (CTGs), and arrested four CTG members.
The government also provides 'serbisyo caravans' and awards Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program or E-CLIP incentives, particularly in the conflict-afflicted communities.
Prior to the pandemic, Cusi said the RTF-ELCAC has launched a sustainable community program that pushes a holistic and inclusive approach to address development and security issues that affect former rebels and indigenous peoples.
The program has been piloted in the areas of Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro, and San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.
The rebel returnees have received various livelihood training and start-up capital seed money to help them live a normal life.
Cusi thanked civic society organizations and private sector for partnering with the government in this endeavor to achieve long-lasting peace.
"You see the partnership, it's not always the government because the private sector and other organizations are also with us. All the regional accomplishment cannot be sustained without the collaboration, inclusivity, and communications," Cusi said.
Cusi also highlighted other reforms and programs implemented under Duterte’s administration, particularly the fight against corruption, massive campaigns versus illegal drugs and other crimes, pushing for independent foreign policy, and relentless pursuit of genuine peace.
The government, he said, also imposed an income tax relief, provides free tuition, improved irrigation system, and increased salaries of military personnel and other law enforcers.
He said other programs like ending contractualization and push for federalism are “work in progress.”
"On foreign policy, we continue to open communication lines and bridges of friendship to other countries and because of this we have been reaping the benefits of more accessible vaccines, technical assistance, and cooperation not just only with the United States of America but also with Russia, China, Australia, and Japan," Cusi said.
He said Duterte’s full support to achieve long-lasting peace, particularly in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao, is also listed as among his achievements in the last five years.
Cusi said Mimaropa is one of the hardest-hit regions by the Covid-19 pandemic since it highly relies on the tourism industry.
He said about 98.43 percent decrease in the number of tourists has been recorded between January to March this year.
The region's revenues were greatly affected by the reduction of tourism receipts from PHP3.4 billion in 2020 to only PHP147.6 million this year.
During the pandemic, Cusi said of all the provinces in the Mimaropa region, only the Oriental Mindoro registered a significant number of tourist arrivals at 9,363.
Cusi said the Filipinos' resiliency and 'Bayanihan spirit' will help Mimaropa's economy return to normal.
To help bounce back the region's economy amid the prevailing health crisis, Cusi said Mimaropa local government units are currently investing more in agriculture programs that ensure stable food security in these trying times.
He said the government's construction of 180 farm-to-market roads across Region 4-B has significantly increased agricultural productivity and reduce economic losses among farmers.
To complement the services directly empowering the agricultural sector, Cusi said the government had pushed for the farm tourism program, established shared services facilities (SSFs), established Negosyo centers, set up Mimaropa agri-trade and tourism fair, and pushed for electronic business permit and the licensing system as well as boosting tourism road infrastructure program.
Take advantage of government programs
Cusi urged the residents in the region to continue availing of the different government programs, saying the "the government is willing to help."
He said for the advancement of technology in the region, the government has established innovation hubs along with a small enterprise technology upgrading program (SET-UP) in Oriental Mindoro and Palawan.
“These hubs continue to assist micro, small and mediums enterprises in the region,” he added.
The government has also been empowering the region’s young entrepreneurs and expanding the regional capacity to manage disaster risks and other calamities.
"Another great investment to promote tourism is the Puerto Princesa Cruise Port and Facilities which started in 2016 costing PHP3.5 billion, this hopefully brings more tourists to Palawan, to the region, and will bring employment and businesses to our region," Cusi said.
The 10,000-square-meter port can accommodate up to 2,500 tourists.
The PHP269-million Lisap Bridge in Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro, which was inaugurated by Duterte in 2018, has greatly changed the living conditions of the residents.
"That would really facilitate mobility and business logistics -- to and from -- the province," Cusi said.
To ensure more people will be able to avail themselves of the basic utility services, Cusi said the government has implemented infrastructure development in the region resulting in about 82.12 percent of the Mimaropa residents having access to safe and potable water.
"That 82 percent is high enough but that is not the instruction of the President, his instruction is to provide all the 100 percent,” he said.
He said nearly 35 percent of the people in the region have accessed Level 3 water connections, while the national irrigation system has improved by at least 84.66 percent.
Cusi said the Department of Energy (DOE) is also assisting the implementation of projects to help address power outages in the region.
"The power shortages and outages will soon be addressed as the Department of Energy continue to support and enhance the grid and renewable energy systems in Mimaropa," Cusi said.
He said the DOE is not the one running the electrical system but can provide rules and regulation standards for power management.
Cusi said the goal of the government is for "everybody” to have access to electricity by 2022.
Gov't efforts amid pandemic
The government also pushes for health security programs in the region, including the vaccination rollout against the Covid-19 pandemic.
He urged Mimaropa residents to avail of the government’s free vaccination program, noting that "the best vaccine is the available vaccine."
"We can help the President, we can help this administration if we can convince our constituents, our families to get themselves vaccinated," Cusi said.
Cusi vowed "the government will continue to work towards a progressive Mimaropa" region.
The pre-SONA is dubbed as “Pamana ng Pagbabago: Kasama sa Pamana” or “Kasama sa Pamana Pre-SONA.” (PNA)