By Manny Piñol
Corporate giant San Miguel Corp. has committed to build a 50-megawatt coal-fired power plant and rebuild Sulu's only technical school as its contribution to the efforts of President Rody Duterte to rebuild the conflict-wracked island which is considered as one of the poorest in the country.
These twin commitments were made by SMC Chairman Ramon S. Ang during a meeting I had with him and SMC executives Wednesday in the corporation's headquarters in Ortigas, Pasig.
The good news came three months after President Duterte personally instructed me to proceed to Sulu to determine what could be done to help the people there.
I was in Borongan, Eastern Samar on Sept. 15 when Sec. Bong Go, the President's executive assistant and head of the Presidential Management Staff, called me up and said that the President wanted to talk to me.
"Can you go to Sulu and check what we could do to help the province?" the President asked me.
At that time, the military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf was in full-swing.
The President said that the campaign against the notorious kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf should be complemented by a social program which would touch the lives of the people in the province, including relatives of the extremist groups.
Visiting Sulu with a 5-man technical team, I was shocked by what I saw and learned.
The island of Jolo relied on a diesel generator for its power which is so costly that the cold storage for the bountiful fish catch of the islands could not even be operated.
The Hadji Butu School of Arts and Trade (HBSAT) where national artist Abdulmari Imao graduated was a mess with loose ceilings dangerously hanging over the heads of students.
There was hardly any livelihood activity in the province resulting in a 61% poverty incidence.
Following a visit I made to Sulu, I sought out Presidential Assistant for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion to seek the help of the private sector through the Kapatid "Go Negosyo" initiative.
After a meeting in the Manila Polo Club, the Kapatid Go Negosyo team headed by focal person Ginggay Hontiveros started working on the "Save Sulu Project."
Hontiveros made two follow up visits to Sulu.
Now, government and the private sector are ready to deliver interventions which could forever change the conflict-affected province.
On Dec. 19 in the Rizal Hall of Malacañang, key officials and private sector leaders of the province will meet face to face with captains of industries and big businessmen.
The corporate group of Manny V. Pangilinan, Lucio Tan, Bounty Agro Ventures, Henry Lim , Rosalind Wee of W Group involved in the carageenan industry, the Chinese Federation of Commerce and the Chambers of Mines, Quintin Pastrana and many other big business names will be on stage with President Duterte to make their commitments to help rebuild Sulu.
After Dec. 19, the lives of the people of Sulu will never be the same again.
Thanks to the determination of President Duterte to reach out to the farthest and most troubled areas of the country.