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Arabian firm investing $20M in Maguindanao

BULUAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews/07 February) — A big Arabian corporation is coming to war-torn Maguindanao province for a business venture with a capital requirement of $20 million or roughly P855 million for the area alone, Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu disclosed on Monday.

Mangudadatu said “the investment of this group for the rest of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao would run up to $1.2 billion.”

ARMM also covers the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi.

“The venture involves farming of cavendish banana…It is a joint venture with the land owners,” he told reporters in Filipino.

Mangudadatu did not name the corporation but said “it supplies 60% of the food in the Middle East.”

Among the towns identified for the banana plantation is Ampatuan, infamous for the massacre that killed 58 people, including 32 media workers, on November 23, 2009.

The carnage was allegedly perpetrated by former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr.,  four of his sons and several relatives.

Mangudadatu said the banana plantation project would involve at least 2,000 hectares, which is expected to employ the same number of laborers.

But the jobs that could be generated could increase further as the projection does not include managers, supervisors and security guards, he added.

“By the end of this month or the second week of March, the field preparation will start,” Mangudadatu said.

On February 9, he and the foreign investor have a scheduled meeting with President Benigno S. Aquino III to discuss the investment, the governor said.

Mangudadatu said that aside from banana, the venture may also involve fast-growing crops like carrots, okra, sweet potato and pumpkins or squash, which, he added, can be processed into canned goods.

The other towns in Maguindanao identified as banana farm sites include Datu Abdullah Sangki, Barira, Buldon and Datu Odin Sinsuat, he said.

Mangudadatu said there are 324,000 hectares of idle lands across Maguindanao that are suitable for agricultural ventures.

With the looming investment, he expressed hopes that kidnapping and robbery incidents in the area would be reduced.

More importantly, Mangudadatu stressed that the venture “can bridge closer the gap to peace, since lack of opportunity was among the reasons why people become rebels.”

Peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been ongoing with Malaysia as third-party facilitator.

The amity talks have brought stability thus far to Maguindanao, an MILF stronghold, and generally to the other areas of Mindanao affected by the intermittent conflict.

Mangudadatu said the upcoming business venture will bring progress to the towns with the annual 20% community development fund that can be used to improve roads and support scholarships.

Landowners would have double benefits because of the rental and the fact that it is a joint venture with them, he said. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)

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