BARMM

Japan steps in to aid BARMM as it struggles with low birth registration rates

Rappler.com

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Japan steps in to aid BARMM as it struggles with low birth registration rates

AID FOR BARMM. Endo Kazuya, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Japan to the Philippines, and UNHCR Head of National Office Maria Ermina Valdeavilla-Gallardo pose with other officials during the signing and exchanging of notes for the grant aid for the Bangsamoro region.

Japan Information and Culture Center

Despite a national birth registration rate of 96.6%, BARMM lags at 77%, placing all its provinces among the bottom 10 in the country

MANILA, Philippines – Significant birth registration gaps continue to plague the country, especially in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), where registration rates are alarmingly low compared to the national average. 

Despite a national birth registration rate of 96.6%, BARMM lags at 77%, placing all its provinces among the bottom 10 in the country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The UNCHR said the region’s low birth registration rates not only raise concerns about statelessness but also hamper access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, and employment for residents.

UNHCR, a UN agency dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights, and building better futures for those fleeing conflict and persecution, has been leading efforts to aid refugees, displaced communities, and stateless individuals worldwide. In the Philippines, it collaborates with the government to address statelessness issues.

To aid BARMM, the Japanese government approved a grant of ¥858 million (approximately US$5.5 million) to UNHCR for a 30-month initiative aimed at improving birth registration services for marginalized populations in the Muslim-majority region.

Endo Kazuya, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Japan to the Philippines, signed and exchanged notes for the grant aid with UNHCR national office head Maria Ermina Valdeavilla-Gallardo on Tuesday, June 11.

“We are hopeful that this initiative will strengthen linkages between local government units and these marginalized sectors and bring the latter within reach of services and other forms of assistance offered by the government and other relevant stakeholders,” Kazuya said.

Valdeavilla-Gallardo stressed the funding’s importance, saying it is vital for providing legal identity to all, in line with the national action plan to end statelessness in the country.

The funding aims to expand the birth registration initiative to cover 50 municipalities in Maguindanao del Sur, Maguindanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi from 2024 to 2027, benefitting some 30,000 individuals during the implementation period. 

The UNHCR projects that the initiative will ultimately benefit 800,000 individuals or 80,000 families over the next 10 years.

Priority municipalities will receive support through digitization and capacity building of local governments and Local Civil Registrars (LCRs), alongside advocacy activities to raise awareness about the importance of birth registration and the sustainability of the initiative.

UNHCR and its partners aim to strengthen protections for Sama Bajaus and unregistered children affected by forced displacement due to armed conflict. The initiative also complements the normalization process in the region through the birth registration of decommissioned combatants and their families.

Since 2021, UNHCR has supported the Ministry of Social Services and Development (MSSD) in BARMM by registering the births of the itinerant seafaring Sama Bajau people and unregistered children displaced by armed conflict. However, the agency said challenges remain, including a lack of understanding about the importance of birth registration, difficulties in accessing target communities, and erroneous data entries.

“With the inclusion of 50 municipalities in BARMM, we are optimistic that the birth registration project, in partnership with UNHCR and the Japanese government, will usher in opportunities for the Bangsamoro people, such as greater access to government services, facilitating change and development in the area,” said BARMM Social Services and Development Minister Raissa Jajurie.

Tuesday’s signing ceremony was witnessed by officials including Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (OPAPRU) Senior Undersecretary Isidro Purisima, UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines Gustavo González, UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyun Dendevnorov, and representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). – Rappler.com

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