Amid Bangsamoro bill uncertainty, Japan continues aid in Mindanao

Jodesz Gavilan
Amid Bangsamoro bill uncertainty, Japan continues aid in Mindanao
Japan's comprehensive development institution has been supporting peace and development projects in the conflict-ridden southern Philippines since 2002

MANILA, Philippines – Amid the uncertainty of the proposed Bangsamoro law being passed by Congress before the election season starts, the Japanese aid agency vowed to continue supporting peace and development efforts in Mindanao.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) president Akihiko Tanaka gave this assurance when he paid a courtesy call to President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday, August 26, the last day of his 4-day visit to the Philippines.

Tanaka was in the country to meet with several stakeholders in pushing for progress in the region long ridden with conflict due to clashes between government forces and rebel groups.

On Monday, he led the turnover of a school building project in North Upi, Maguindanao, where there had been an increasing number of enrollees in the local elementary school. Prior to the project, teachers had to make use of temporary areas just so classes could go on as usual.

The building is one of the 20 quick impact projects (QIP) amounting to P73 million ($1.5 million)* that JICA committed to provide to boost inclusive development in the region.

Other QIPs include multi-purpose halls and warehouse for livelihood in conflict-affected provinces in Maguindanao, Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Basilan, Sulu, Sarangani, Tawi-Tawi, Sultan Kudarat, Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental, and Zamboanga Sibugay.

These projects are part of JICA’s Comprehensive Capacity Development Project (CCDP-B), which addresses the needs of the Bangsamoro in its various transition stages – from formation to the creation of a new government.

JICA, Japan’s comprehensive development institution, has extended assistance to the peace building process in other countries affected by conflict, such as Cambodia, South Sudan, and Afghanistan. It is one of the world’s “largest bilateral agency” with assistance amounting to more than $1.55 billion (P70 billion) in 2014.

According to Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator and Bangsamoro Transition Commission Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, the region is grateful for the help the government of Japan has given throughout the years – even before the peace process and amidst setbacks in the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Iqbal added that JICA’s QIPs, which include school buildings and other socio-economic infrastructures, had paved the way for the creation of opportunities to people burdened by the negative impact of lack of peace.

“The government of Japan has been investing greatly on the socio-economic development of the region, even before the peace process started,” he said. “I am grateful that Japan, through JICA, has been assisting us even though the BBL is still under deliberation.”

COURTESY CALL. President Benigno S. Aquino III converses with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) president Akihiko Tanaka during the Courtesy Call at the Study Room of the Malacañan Palace on Wednesday (August 26, 2015). Also in photo is Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines His Excellency Kazuhide Ishikawa. Photo by Lauro Montellano, Jr. / Malacañang Photo Bureau

Support from way back

According to 2014 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, 10 out of the 16 poorest provinces in the country were in Mindanao. Dangers brought about by conflict have prevented the utilization of the vast array of natural resources.

The armed conflict has placed many of Mindanao residents under the poverty trap and limited access to basic services. They also suffered from the lack of opportunities to further improve their livelihood due to limited investments in the region.

The gruesome effects of warring sides also come in the form of hunger and malnutrition. Zamboanga and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) registered high levels of acute food insecurity, according to the recent Food Security and Nutrition Analysis of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. (READ: How conflict can lead to food insecurity and hunger)

Projects conducted by international organizations such as JICA had, in a way, elevated the state of the region.

JICA began assisting efforts for peace and development in 2002. The initial ARMM Social Fund for Peace and Development implemented 32 infrastructure projects and 707 community development assistance projects, according to a report.

In 2006, the government of Japan launched the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Recronstruction and Development (J-BIRD) program to intensify support to the region. The country’s total official development assistance has amounted to 15.1 billion yen (P5.8 billion). – Rappler.com

*U$1=P46 / 1 JPY=P.040

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.