Japan mulls financial aid to Bangsamoro body

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

December 11, 2018, 6:28 pm

MANILA -- The Japanese government is planning to modify its existing support to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for the establishment of the new Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda said Tuesday.

"The new BTA that will replace the ARMM government needs to be well supported financially, and in terms of capacity building," he said during the Bangsamoro Forum in Makati City.

The BTA is the governing body that will be created during the transition period toward the establishment of the Bangsamoro government in 2022.

"Japan is considering to modifying its existing support to the ARMM government so that it would fit well with the new BTA," he added.

Haneda added that smooth operation for the upcoming plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) ratification "is a very crucial first step" for the process that follows.

"The international community could play a role to support this event, and Japan is considering its possible involvement," he said.

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have already begun Monday the campaign for the BOL in Cotabato City. On January 21 and February 6, the voting for the plebiscite will take place.

MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, who was also present at the forum, said "an overwhelming number of our people showed up to express their support for the Bangsamoro Organic Law."

While some were allegedly blocked from entering Cotabato City due to lack of identification cards and certificate of residency from barangay officials, the MILF chair said around 300,000 people were able to attend the gathering on Monday.

"Despite all the challenges in the plebiscite, we feel confident that our people will ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law," he said.

In a speech delivered at the forum, Ebrahim highlighted the 10 priorities the BTA will purse once it is established.

One of the priorities named is the implementation of programs that will respond to the pressing and economic challenges in the Bangsamoro such as poverty, education, health, and job opportunities, among others.

In an interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Senior Representative Yo Ebisawa said the agency is among the numerous groups committed to fulfill this priority.

"The future project is for the future ex-combatant for the normalization process. It's going to be a pilot model when they really start the decommissioning. Since they don't have work, they may start with agriculture," he said at the sidelines of the Bangsamoro Forum.

Even before the BOL was approved last July 2018, JICA's support to the peace in the Bangsamoro region "was there," Ebisawa said.

"Actually, we supported the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in drafting the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law), BBL at that time. We provided trainings for the ones drafting the BBL," he said.

"We have many things done in the past. We even dispatched people for trainings in Japan," he added.

JICA has also laid out development plans focused on vocational trainings, road network development project in the area, and technical assistance for the community, including the indigenous peoples.

In a video-taped message, JICA President Shinichi Kitaoka affirmed that the agency's commitment to the Mindanao peace process is "now stronger than ever."

"We believe that peace and development in Mindanao will result to wider peace and development in the Philippines, and eventually in the greater Southeast Asian, and East Asian region," Kitaoka said.

Meanwhile, Ebrahim said the proposals for strategic infrastructures in the region were brought to JICA's attention such as the "peace bridges" in the western side of the city that will link Cotabato to both Datu Odin Sinsuat and Sultan Kudarat, and a coastal road that will connect it to Polloc.

Among others, a circumferential road around the Liguasan marsh was also proposed. (PNA)