MANILA (Reuters) – A commercial hub besieged by heavily armed guerrillas, hundreds of houses gutted by fire, helicopters raining rockets on rebel positions. The images from the Philippines this past week sit uncomfortably with its new-found reputation as an emerging market success story and one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies. The violence in Zamboanga City in the country’s long-troubled south will have little immediate economic or investment impact as long as it doesn’t spread in coming weeks, government officials and economists say. But it underscores how the resource-rich island of Mindanao could remain a long-term weakness for the economy as the explosive mix of clans, Muslim and communist rebel groups and guns drains the military’s resources and keeps investors away. “Mindanao has so much to offer, but of course the stupid fighting in Zamboanga is just throwing everything back. Selling Mindanao to investors is so difficult now,” Henry Schumacher, vice president for external affairs of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, told Reuters.
The island, about the size of Portugal, accounts for around one-quarter of the Philippines’ 97 million population and one-fifth of its economy. It is rich in agricultural, marine and mineral resources – much of them untapped – and the government wants to get on track oil and gas exploration delayed by objections from some rebels. Despite Mindanao’s riches, its people are the country’s poorest thanks to decades of chronic insecurity fuelled by separate communist and Muslim rebellions and by al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants who the government has proved unable to stamp out.A historic peace deal signed last year between the government and the largest Muslim rebel group appeared to mark the beginning of the end of a 40-year conflict that has killed 120,000 people, displaced two million and stunted growth. (Source: Reuters News 9/19/13)