By Celso Amo
LEGAZPI CITY -- Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said he supports the decision of Albay Vice Governor Harold Imperial to run as governor in the upcoming 2019 midterm election.
Zubiri’s mother comes from the Fernandez clan of Libon, Albay and Harold Imperial is his cousin.
“Blood is thicker than water but Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara is a friend and both are good candidates,” said Zubiri during a press conference held at Bigg’s Diner at Gaisano Mall here Saturday (Oct. 13) morning.
Meanwhile, Zubiri said he is closely monitoring the construction of the Bicol International Airport(BIA) during the budget hearing of the Department of Transportation.
He said BIA is one of the international airports in the country which is being supervised for completion based on DOTr presentation.”
“When it’s completed I wish there will be direct flights to other countries just like the Mactan International Airport,” he said.
The construction of the terminal building is on track and will be completed in 2019, he said.
He is also monitoring developmeents on the proposed extended modern railway going up to Matnog, Sorsogon with its ground breaking due to start next year.
“My mother keeps on reminding me not to forget to help Libon and Albay.”
Zubiri who comes from Bukidnon said there’s peace, growth, hope and development in Mindanao.
With President Duterte’s signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law the MILF has turned over their firearms and is now deactivated.
“They were helping the Armed Forces during the seige of Marawi to recover civilians in the war zone,” said Zubiri.
The recovery of Marawi City from ISIS and Maute terrorists was over in six months.
Mindanao is very peacefull with the implementation of martial law, he said.
“We support this [martial law] because there are a lot of checkpoints at entry and exit points in big cities unlike before when you don’t know if there are armed men around,” he said.
He disclosed that people in Mindanao are excited about the railway system after its ground breaking ceremony with the first leg at the Davao provinces and from Butuan City to Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and all the way up to Zamboanga City and General Santos City.
The Senator said another airport is being constructed in Bukidnon since it’s not connected to the railway system due to its elevation and mountainous terrain.
“There are lots of development projects in Mindanao, together with the rest of the country,” said Zubiri.
He said people in Mindanao are hopeful and working together with Muslim brothers and sisters for a peaceful co-existence.
He added the rehabilitation of Marawi City has already started during a ground-breaking program on Friday (Oct. 12).
“The rehabilitation of the war-torn city was delayed because of unexploded bombs which had to be removed before construction starts,” said Zubiri.
“You can just imagine the risk of bulldozer operators clearing the debris and the constructors supervising the work suddenly hit by an explosion at the work site.”
He said the MILF which 10,000 to 15,000 fighters had already started demilitarizing or turning their firearms to the Armed Forces for safekeeping.
“AFP Chief of Staff Gen.Carlito Galvez has announced earlier the war between the AFP and the MILF is over and both are working together for peace keeping,” he added.
As a result, there is less fighting in Maguindanao because the MILF fighters are now going after the BIFF
“The MILF are happy with the Bangsamoro procedure which is now the forefront of governance in the area, together with the PNP and the AFP working as partners.”
Zubiri said that investors are still reluctant to come in despite the marked improvement in the peace and order situation in Mindanao and the existing martial law.
“Foreigners are reluctant to go and invest in areas where there’s martial law.”
Domestic tourism is okay but international tourism has slowed a bit, Zubiri added.
He said though there’s no problem for tourists going to Cagayan de Oro, Camiguin and Siargao.
He said communist insurgency is a common problem everywhere and in Christian areas in Mindanao
“So far they are already behaving as there’s not bloody skirmishes happening lately.
The Armed Forces has also put up its own mechanism at the provincial, municipal levels for NPA rebels to surrender.
Thousands of NPA rebels and their supporters had already surrendered to the authorities in Mindanao to take advantage of the Enhanced Comprehensive Localized Integration Program (E-CLIP) of the Duterte administration.
“The negotiation with NPA is now with the national, regional and provincial levels,” said Zubiri.
Zubiri calls himself an Albayano. He is on a one-month Senate break starting last October 12.