The 18th Mindanao Business Conference in the Philippines opened with a keynote speech by U.S. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, who accentuated the importance of Mindanao to the national economy and pointed out that many of its products, such as seaweed, tuna and fruits, were known worldwide.

Ambassador Kenney told conference delegates that it was in the best interests of all Filipinos to have a “prosperous, developed Mindanao.”

“A peaceful community grounded in the rule of law and respect for all citizens can be a magnet for investment,” the Ambassador said.

The “MinBizCon” serves as the platform of the Mindanao business community for combining private sector issues and concerns. It also serves as a key venue for generating local and foreign investment in Mindanao, sharing best practices in economic development, and fostering a more competitive business environment.

The focus this year is on Mindanao’s business opportunities and commitments in the global economy.

“The presence of Her Excellency Ambassador Kristie Kenney highlights the role of Mindanao in U.S.-Philippines economic relations,” said Elena Haw, vice president for Mindanao of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI). “It highlights the importance of the U.S. market to the economic development of the region, since the U.S. is the number one trading partner of Mindanao and The Philippines.”

This year’s conference is organized by the PCCI, and hosted by the South Cotabato Chamber, with support from the provincial government; Koronadal city government; Department of Trade and Industry; USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, which is implemented
under the oversight of the Mindanao Economic Development Council; and other partners within business Philippines.

Earlier, the Ambassador visited nearby Tupi with South Cotabato Governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes to formally turn over to the municipal government a Barangay Bridge constructed by USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program.

The 7.5-meter reinforced concrete bridge spanning the Cebuano River in Bololmala, Tupi, will enable residents to move products and to access services in the town center safely and efficiently. Previously, vehicles carrying farm products had to ford the river or cross on unsafe makeshift wooden bridges.

Under USAID’s GEM Program, the U.S. Government has thus far financed the construction of about 940 barangay infrastructure projects throughout the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, and will assemble up to 900 more in the next three years, in partnership with the national government and local governments.

“This bridge will bring people from all over the province to your community, and also bring your wonderful products to the rest of the province, Mindanao and the Philippines,” Ambassador Kenney said to barangay residents at the turn-over ceremony.

The Bololmala Barangay Bridge project is the 14th infrastructure project finished by USAID’s GEM Program in the Municipality of Tupi and the 37th completed in South Cotabato Province.

“We can now deliver our papaya to [the consolidator] on time, according to a strict schedule. Before, when deliveries were late because of the [river] crossing, we would end up selling the fruits at the market for much less,” said Ernesto Prudente, a local grower and barangay councilor.

Another resident, Dalyn Batisana, escorted her young children Beverly and Marc Anthony to witness the bridge turn-over. “Now they can go every day to school,” Batisana said. “Before, they’d just stay home whenever it rained heavily and the river flooded, because it wasn’t safe to cross over the old bridge.”

Brgy. Bololmala is situated within the “fruit, flower and vegetable basket” of Tupi, South Cotabato. The area’s main commodities for both domestic sale and export are bongulan banana and other banana varieties, pineapple, asparagus, and papaya. Other products are cut flowers, rice, corn, and coconut.

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