By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – European Union (EU) Ambassador Luc Véron will open today, Monday a five-day visit in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and Lanao del Norte on a theme – “EU and the Philippines: Collaborating for Peace and Development in Mindanao.”
Ambassador Véron will witness EU-backed development and humanitarian projects and meet local interlocutors in BARMM and Northern Mindanao from 15 to 19 November, his first in Southern Philippines.
His visit is a “reaffirmation of the commitment” of the EU in the peace process and development in Mindanao through an inclusive and comprehensive approach, according to a statement sent to the Philippine Muslim Today new.
The EU supports the “political settlement” of decades-old Mindanao conflict by providing a humanitarian and human rights law expert to the International Monitoring Team that monitors the implementation of all the agreements signed by the parties, including the 2014 peace agreement.
The 2014 peace deal, known as the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), was forged by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with the Government of the Philippines (GPH) to cap 17 years of negotiations. It led to the enactment in 2018 of R.A. 11054 or Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that created the BARMM in 2019.
In the first leg of his visit today, Ambassador Véron will meet with BARMM officials as well as International Monitoring Team (IMT) Deputy Head of Mission First Admiral Yusman bin Ostaldi, and Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament Speaker Ali Pangalian Balindong, the EU statement said.
Véron’s delegation and the BARMM officialdom will launch formally the five-year P1.5-billion Support to Bangsamoro Transition (SUBATRA) Program, which seeks to help BARMM lay the foundation for lasting peace and development in the region by strengthening the capacities of its institutions during the transition period, the statement said.
Ambassador Véron’s meeting with host officials and other stakeholders will focus on peace and development efforts in BARMM, which the EU assists financially to enhance social cohesion and communities’ resiliency while addressing the health, social and economic impact of COVID-19 in the region, the statement said.
The EU through Thelma Gecolea, its Manila-based communications specialist, has earlier invited the Bangsamoro Press Corps (BPC) to join parts of today’s gatherings.
The envoy will also meet local government officials alongside humanitarian and development partners in the cities of Cotabato, Marawi and Iligan, and the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, the EU statement said.
New actions were being planned to support the transformation of Moro Islamic Liberation Front camps into peaceful and productive communities, the statement said.
In Marawi and Pantar, Ambassador Véron will interact with schoolchildren of the Education in “Emergencies Project” in the Sagonsongan temporary transition site and Darul Fitya Litahfidel Qur-an Toril, and meet Governors Mamintal Alonto-Adiong Jr. of Lanao del Sur and Imelda Quibranza-Dimaporo, and education and other government officials.
“Through its humanitarian and development support, the EU has been spot on in addressing the impact of COVID-19 among vulnerable groups in Mindanao,” the statement said.
Supporting Peace and Development initiatives in Southern Philippines
Around P1.4-billion has been allocated to improve the social cohesion and resiliency of communities in BARMM, and to address health, social and economic impact of COVID-19 in the region. It also seeks to consolidate the hard-won peace by supporting the new administration, the parliament, the judicial system and civil society in the transition.
The five-year SUBATRA program aims to help BARMM lay the foundation for lasting peace and development in the region by strengthening the capacities of its institutions to establish an enabling democratic governance environment during the transition period.
The Rise Mindanao program, another EU project, focuses on the immediate priority of food security by supporting agro-cooperatives and strengthening the service delivery of local authorities. It is provided with a P2-billion EU fund to help provide job opportunities for farmers, women, youth and indigenous people.
Through partner civil society organisations (CSOs), the EU is also working on COVID-19 information campaigns.
Advocacy materials to inform communities on how to prevent the virus and cope with COVID-19 are being developed. Multi-lingual videos and infographics are being produced and disseminated widely, in particular to youth and women, to increase public understanding of COVID-19,
Humanitarian Aid (ECHO)
In the last five years, the EU has provided a total of Php 1.2 billion in humanitarian aid: Php 596 million in emergency response; Php 380 million in disaster preparedness and Php 221 million in education in emergencies.
Project SiNDAO: Protecting learning in conflict and complex emergencies in Mindanao.
The Action aims to improve access to quality, protective and uninterrupted education and child protection services. It targets boys and girls, women and men affected by armed conflict, displacement, and COVID-19 in Mindanao. The project integrates education and child protection sectoral support. It enhances access to safe and quality learning opportunities and prepares school facilities and teachers to receive learners safely.
The inclusive Safe Back to School campaign is designed to reach the most vulnerable boys and girls in conflict-affected and poverty-stricken communities of Mindanao. The Action supports vulnerable students from public schools, through community-level tutoring systems and structured learning sessions.
Quality learning opportunities will be enhanced through training of teachers from both formal and non-formal schools. They are trained on distance education pedagogy, children’s wellbeing, teaching literacy, and other courses. Training sessions also include disaster preparedness, child participation and SGBV and gender issues.
The project also provides assistance on water, sanitation and hygiene practices and risk communication against COVID-19.
Strengthening Urban Preparedness through Scaling up of Pre-emptive Action and Emergency Response
The project builds the local disaster preparedness capacities of the Philippine government by integrating inclusive conflict-sensitive social protection and anticipatory action in local development and disaster risk reduction plans.
This innovative pilot project uses forecast-based financing and has so far been successful in proving that vulnerable households can be better prepared and can improve resilience against the usual humanitarian effect of disasters.
Responding to the Humanitarian Needs of the most vulnerable populations in Mindanao Affected by Conflict, Disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic
In addition to humanitarian food assistance, interventions include the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene, temporary shelter and psychosocial support for the most vulnerable population in Mindanao, particularly those affected by conflict, disasters and COVID-19. (AGM)