After the Plebiscite – what is next for Mindanao and for the EU?
NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Franz Jessen (The Philippine Star) - February 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The month of February has been a month loaded with many highlights for the Philippines and for me as the EU Ambassador.

Together with my EU colleagues, I have congratulated the Philippine Government, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Commission on Elections for the generally peaceful conduct of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) plebescite this January and February 2019. I am confident that the outcome of the plebiscite will usher in a promising phase for the attainment of peace in the Southern Philippines.

I spent Tuesday evening in Davao celebrating the 9th anniversary of the creation of the Mindanao Development Authority (MINDA). The highlight was of course the speech by President Duterte. The President is seeking to create a new, different Philippines and he referred several times to the country’s difficult past, as well as his own ethnic background. With the passing of the BOL, one of the difficult chapters in the country’s history can hopefully be closed, and the next chapter can start with, not only hope and aspiration, but with concrete political and economic development initiatives. 

This week’s oath taking ceremony of the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) in Malacanang is another milestone. The symbolic value of that ceremony is more than just considerable. It constitutes a very promising indicator that Bangsamoro and Filipino identities can actually co-exist harmoniously and in a constructive spirit of compromise. During the event, MILF commanders who have never entered Manila will witness in Malacañang. It is heartening for all of us to see the Moro leaders taking oath for their own future government, which will function under the auspices and in tandem with the central authority. 

The year 2019 is a new beginning for the Bangsamoro and the upcoming period of transition is definitely critical. From now on, the responsibility will be in the hands of MILF and BTA, as the governance process will officially start. The transition is an opportunity for all actors to work in a harmonious spirit to lay down a solid foundation for political, economic and social stability in Minda-nao. With all these in place, the Philippines is certainly off to a good start.

As the EU has been built with peace as its DNA, the EU Delegation to the Philippines will step up its programmes for Mindanao, in agreement with all relevant government departments as well as the MILF as the Government’s partner in the peace process.

After all, the EU has always been a staunch supporter of the Mindanao Peace Process throughout the years expressing its political support, encouraging all sides to pursue a peaceful solution and providing substantial financial support for the process. Already this week I will host a working lunch to which I have invited the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Carlito G. Galvez Jr.  and MILF’s Chairman Murad Ebrahim. Together with the EU MS Ambassadors to the Philippines, the European Chamber of Commerce and the Chambers of Commerce of EU Member States, we will discuss new opportunities arising for economic development and investments in the newly established entity of BARMM. I feel privileged to be a part of this historic development in the Philippines.

As our development cooperation programmes are concentrated in Mindanao, we leverage on our competencies and expertise to see how we can expand the programmes that we have and how to collaborate with more sectors in the country – be with government, NGOs, civil society organisations, business sector and the communities themselves. 

In the light of the Philippines Development Plan, the 10-point socio-economic agenda, “Ambisyon Natin 2040” and the Strategic Framework for Mindanao Peace and Development, the EU Delegation will continue to collaborate with the Government to help make the justice system more efficient, effective and accountable and to help attain inclusive growth through access to sustainable energy and job creation.  An example of this is the project launch I attended last week, “Renewable Energy Technology,” to increase the value added of seaweeds to help achieve electrification in Tawi-Tawi.

More generally, a recent meeting I had with the new Philippines’ Special Envoy to the EU, Atty Avelino Cruz coupled with my previous discussions with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr last January make me optimistic regarding the EU-Philippines’ partnership. Although in office only since October 2018, Secretary Locsin has visited Brussels  two times, first for the ASEM Summit in October  and then for the successful EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in January. He also met with Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc.

There is so much hope and dynamism in the country and I must say that a healthy bilateral political and policy dialogue is foreseen. While there will be challenges along the way, the EU is always here to stay as a supporter for peace-building and development.

I always believe in the capacity, resiliency and strength of the Filipino people having witnessed many occasions on how Filipinos rise above themselves amidst conflicts – whether man-made or natural.  The Filipino people will always be steadfast in their own resolve for peace and the EU will always be committed to peace-building and prosperity as a partner and neighbour.

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(Franz Jessen is the Ambassador of the European Union.)

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