From the people of Japan to the people of Bangsamoro
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Koji Haneda (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2019 - 12:00am

The establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) on February 22 as the most recent development in the Mindanao peace process is indeed a milestone for the people of Bangsamoro. I commend all the stakeholders behind this historic initiative.

It has been Japan’s resolute commitment for over a decade to push for the Mindanao peace process. Cognizant of the critical importance of the years ahead, we will continue to support the incoming political transition for the Bangsamoro people to soon reap the dividends of peace. This we aim to do by focusing on the capacity building of BTA, implementing the “normalization” or decommissioning of MILF combatants, and extending socioeconomic development assistance.

The way forward appeared to be a tall order when the Embassy of Japan co-organized the Bangsamoro Forum with UN Manila last December 11. It was very encouraging to see, however, the presence of over 100 participants from the Philippine Government, MILF, diplomatic corps and international organizations, which I believe served as a vote of confidence to this worthwhile endeavor.

In what we consider as the first crucial phase since then, Japan dispatched its monitoring mission to the plebiscite for the BOL ratification and determination of the boundary of BARMM last January 21 and February 6. Led by Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Norikazu Suzuki, our mission members were encouraged by the election officials and public teachers who served their roles with all integrity and more so by the people who made their votes count for the future of their homeland.

Reaffirming Japan’s commitment to the Mindanao peace process, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono visited Davao from February 9 to 11. In his courtesy call on President Duterte and meetings with Foreign Secretary Locsin, Finance Secretary Dominguez and Defense Secretary Lorenzana, Minister Kono regarded the BOL ratification as a welcome development on our end, reiterating Japan’s expanded assistance based on the progress made in the peace process.

At the same time, Minister Kono signed Exchange of Notes with Secretary Locsin for the 202 million USD road network project in conflict-affected areas, and had the opportunity to meet with MILF Chairman Murad, with both leaders in agreement that the benefits of peace should be experienced as early as possible by the Bangsamoro people.

Upon the establishment of the BTA, Minister Kono issued a welcoming statement to highlight Japan’s new assistance package including the rebuilding of a vocational center in Marawi City, livelihood assistance in the agricultural sector, and improvement of access to safe water. On top of this, Japan will also provide vehicles and other equipment worth about 160 million pesos to support the initial normalization activities of the Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST) and the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB). It is worth noting that Japan made this new assistance package equivalent to the total amount of assistance provided under the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development (J-BIRD), which has been in full swing for the last 13 years.

As a concrete measure after Minister Kono’s visit, I signed Exchange of Notes with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Labour Organization (ILO) for two projects in the Bangsamoro region on March 6. The FAO project, amounting to 1.765 million USD, will assist farmers and fishermen, including former combatants, women and indigenous people, acquire various agricultural vocational expertise. The ILO project, approximately worth 2.66 million USD, will likewise develop water infrastructure to benefit an estimated 11,814 households.

The path to the establishment of the Bangsamoro Government in 2022 may be a long way to go. There may be setbacks along the way that defy the will of the majority of the Bangsamoro people like the recent bombing incidents, which Japan strongly condemns. Notwithstanding the challenges and uncertainties surrounding the Mindanao peace process, Japan will stand by the region as a close friend it can depend on. As we work together with the Philippine Government and BTA led by the newly appointed Interim Chief Minister Murad, it is our highest hope that the smooth political transition in the region will finally lead the Bangsamoro people to a better life.

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(Koji Haneda is the Ambassador of Japan.)

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