Following a successful mission in the Cordillera Administrative Region, I headed to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to see our development and humanitarian projects and to meet with interlocutors in the region.
It was my first time to visit Central and Northern Mindanao. But my visit was made more significant and memorable due to the narratives of dedication and pursuit for peace and development of the communities on the ground.
The region is still beset with many political and socio-economic issues brought and wrought about by conflict in the past. Nevertheless, meeting with stakeholders – from beneficiaries to political players to development actors – has provided me with a sense of understanding of and a deeper respect for the people of Bangsamoro.
While hostilities have ceased, the peace process is now focused on normalization and implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
Witnessing first-hand the decommissioning of former combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front-Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces has provided an assurance for these forces to reintegrate with the civilian life. I used my visit to discuss in particular the forthcoming EU support for camps transformation for P620 million. And the EU is proud to be at the forefront of promoting mutual trust, combatting violent extremism and laying down confidence-building measures. It has to be recalled that the EU joined the International Monitoring Team at the invitation of the two Parties to keep track of the implementation of the humanitarian, rehabilitation and development aspects of the agreement. It has also supported the Third Party Monitoring Team (led by retired and highly competent EU officials) which monitors the compliance of the Parties with their commitments.
This political support is, however, one of the many facets of our actions in Mindanao.
Together with Senior Minister Macacua, Minister Iqbal and other high officials from the BARMM government, I had the privilege to launch the five-year P1.5-billion Support to Bangsamoro Transition (SUBATRA) program.
The program, which is also co-funded by our Member-State Spain, aims to help BARMM lay the foundation for lasting peace and development by strengthening the capacities of its institutions during the transition period. I felt that our action on institution capacity building will be very valuable in addressing the challenges of the BARMM until the 2025 elections.
Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Speaker Pangalian Balindong shared how its Multi-Party Leadership Caucus has become a platform and safe space to enable them to discuss issues, developments and new knowledge to fast track the enactment of priority legislations.
It was therefore good to witness how SUBATRA is playing a role in the political process through its technical support for law making, oversight and representation mandates.
The BTA is slowly developing and integrating the legislative arsenal needed to make the BARMM a fully functioning region. And the EU assistance to the executive, parliament and judiciary branches of the autonomous government, linking them to the work of civil society organizations, will be a key force in addressing transition issues in the regional authority.
Humanitarian aid and sustainable development
In Marawi, I saw for myself the reconstruction of the city infrastructure and the urban development but housing, among many others, is still a concern of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs). I am proud that the EU support will take a multi-sectoral approach to recovery with a focus on IDPs and host communities by revitalizing the essential services for health, nutrition, WASH, education and child protection. We plan to work with UNICEF to help in building capacities of local government units in planning and investments for the most vulnerable.
Indeed there are positive signs of recovery.
While in Lanao del Sur, I interacted with schoolchildren and teachers of the “Education in Emergencies Project” in the Sagonsongan temporary transition site and in Darul Fitya Litahfidel Qur-an Toril. I was moved by the enthusiasm of the teachers (displaced from Marawi) who were thrilled by the resumption of face-to-face education. In Cotabato, I also saw how we have helped the communities in floodable areas to cope with natural catastrophes and how the LGUs have improved their disaster preparedness actions.
I left Mindanao with a sense of pride after seeing how our humanitarian aid addresses the many challenges that the vulnerable groups face in the region, from flooding, displacement to addressing the impact of COVID-19. I could also sense the opportunities to connect this aid to forthcoming development cooperation which will promote income and socio-economic development in rural areas.
What were my main takeaways from the visit?
The journey to sustaining peace and development is far from over.
But the encouraging news is that the political platforms and development systems are now in place. There is a sense of optimism in the new institutions to make the BARMM a success.
The EU has adopted a comprehensive, inclusive and integrated approach in its development efforts while its political measures are paying off. Our development actions should contribute to addressing the root causes of the conflict, the impact of climate change in disaster preparedness actions as well food security and nutrition in agri-enterprise support.
I have personally witnessed the strength, perseverance and determination of the Bangsamoro people. I am certain that they will soon reap the seeds of hope and peace that they have fought for, sifted and carefully nurtured through the years.
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Luc Veron is Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.