NewsDesk: Kabacan’s thorny journey to competitiveness

THE town of Kabacan in North Cotabato is not used to hearing good news.

Like many towns in Mindanao, it has an image problem.

Usually, the town only attracts the attention of the media if a bomb explodes or if street killings and robberies happen like they are part of the daily grind. The town has gained notoriety as one North Cotabato’s hub of illegal drug traders and users.

In November last year, a 19-year-old female university student died and 17 others were wounded when a bomb exploded on an elevated walkway in Kabacan. There had been deadly bomb attacks in the past. Last March, another bomb was placed along the national highway, just a few meters away from the town’s terminal. The explosion was averted when the bomb was discovered.

In 2013, the town’s vice mayor, Policronio Dulay, was gunned down.

Kabacan is a university town as it is a home to the University of Southern Mindanao, a premier agricultural institution in Mindanao. The university hosts a station of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). A number of killings and bomb attacks even happened inside the school — victimizing students and university employees.

Its outskirt villages were never spared from armed confrontations between government troops and Moro rebels that resulted in numerous evacuations.

Because of this, the inclusion of Kabacan on the list of Philippine competitive towns and cities was a surprising breath of fresh air for the residents of the town, something that had them talking about since it was announced recently.

For Mayor Herlo Guzman, there was nothing surprising about the results of the competitiveness index released by the National Competitiveness Council (NCC).

“Kabacan was really able to transform itself from being troubled to being competitive,” said the young mayor, stressing how the town has successfully attracted investors with the local government’s progress in its efforts to improve the peace and security.

According to NCC, the Competitiveness Index is a program which “encourages LGUs to gather and voluntarily submit data which are used to measure their performance on three pillars anchored on global standards: Economic Dynamism, Government Efficiency, and Infrastructure.”

“This program is conducted by the National Competitiveness Council, aligned with the goal to improve the country’s overall competitiveness, through collaborative efforts between the national and local government agencies, and the public and private sectors,” the council said.

Last year, Kabacan’s income reached P189 million with 744 new investors. For the first quarter of 2015, the number increased by 40 percent.
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“This can be attributed to the improving security and peace in the town which made the climate of doing business good. The local government was also able to enforce the revenue code strictly,” he said.

In 2013, the revenue was only P164.8 million. The local government expects a P191 million revenue this year.

The town now has seven banks, four shopping centers, and at least 13 private schools.

Guzman believes that a major factor that contributed to the competitiveness of the town was peace and security.

“We know that only when investors and our people feel safe and secure will we truly be able to compete. That is why peace and order is always on top of our agenda,” he said.
Courtesy photo

Cases of criminalities, including deaths resulting from street robberies dropped to 20 in 2014 from 34 in 2013. Carnapping cases also plunged to 44 in 2014 from 93 cases the previous year.

The local government unit, with the support of the provincial government, invested on the so-called force-multipliers, organizing able and willing members of the communities into Barangay Peacekeeping Action Teams. They will complement the barangay civilian police and their counterparts, the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu). Local radio (handheld radios) groups were also formed in every community as they can quickly information in the deterrent of crimes.

The local government also initiated projects that are responsive of the people’s needs.

Last year, the local government completed a solar energy project in Barangay Tamped, a Manobo village that can only be reached by boat through the Kabacan River or through a 4-hour motorcycle ride. The P4.8 million project was supported by the Department of Energy.

The project will be extended to the villages of Simone and Simbuhay. The three villages are conflict-areas.

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“Our aim is to support and sustain all the other peace and development efforts of various groups,” Guzman said.

Gov. Emmylou Mendoza said the inclusion of Kabacan and Midsayap towns shows that “our collective efforts are working.” Guzman has recognized that without the help of the provincial and national governments, implementation of projects would be very difficult.

“This is in recognition of our collective efforts to deliver sustainable development and progress to the people,” said Mendoza in a press statement. “This also underscores our commitment to partnerships in the pursuit of good and effective governance and genuine public service.”

Through the provincial government’s Serbisyong Totoo program, the challenges of the local government units were equitably resolved, according to Mendoza.

“The recognition is a proof that we are on the right way; that we are all doing it the right way,” she said.

Recently, the provincial government turned over some P22-million in projects to at least 11 villages in the province.

“We continue to support local government units for their own growth and competitiveness amid complex challenges,” she said.

The NCC was the former Public-Private Sector Task Force on Philippine Competitiveness created by Malacañang in October 2006.

It aims to promote and develop national competitiveness “and instill a culture of excellence, through public-private sector collaboration as a means to reduce poverty through inclusive growth.”

In assessing the competitiveness of a province, city or town, the NCC examines performance assessments based on indicators such as economic dynamism, government efficiency, and infrastructure. These are based on data on existing road network, health infrastructure, education infrastructure, basic utilities, infrastructure investments and other factors. | JMT, NewsDesk

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