JICA completes development plan for Philippines' Bangsamoro region


A development plan for the proposed Bangsamoro region in the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao has been completed despite a setback in the government’s peace process with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Japan International Cooperation Agency said Wednesday.

JICA’s Philippine office said the final report of Bangsamoro Development Plan 2, the crafting of which it led starting in 2013, was turned over Saturday to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and its development arm, the Bangsamoro Development Agency, at the rebel group’s main stronghold, Camp Darapanan, in Maguindanao province.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front forged a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the Philippine government in March 2014 after 17 years of negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the political and armed conflict that has stunted economic growth and affected people’s lives.

But the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law for authorizing the creation of the Muslim-dominated region with a more autonomous government was not passed by the outgoing congress after some legislators questioned the rebel group’s sincerity following a deadly clash between government forces and armed fighters in January 2015.

The same piece of legislation is expected to be tackled by the new members of congress set to convene next month.

“We are optimistic that the peace process in Mindanao will be sustained despite the challenges,” Susumu Ito, JICA’s chief representative in the Philippines, said in a statement.

The Bangsamoro Development Plan 2 “will be useful for integrated development planning for the whole Mindanao and outlines strategies for future development assistance that the region will need to achieve inclusive growth,” he added.

The plan is a result of JICA’s Comprehensive Development Project for the Bangsamoro in partnership with the Bangsamoro Development Agency.

It covers medium- to long-term goals through 2022 and 2028, respectively, and identifies 27 key projects that may be funded by any interested agencies, including government and development partners.

The proposed projects, which are mainly for agriculture, agro-industry, fishery, logistics infrastructure, power supply, river basin management and flood control, may be implemented even as the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is being awaited.

Another 54 proposed projects under the plan are expected to help boost the economy of the entire Mindanao, JICA said.

If implemented, the plan can create 550,000 additional jobs in the region and pump the average regional gross domestic product to 7.4 percent annually.

“When carried out, the (Bangsamoro Development Plan) will help bridge the poverty gap and enhance the connectivity of Mindanao with other regions,” Ito said.

Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, JICA noted that poverty incidence in that region was at 59 percent during the first half of 2015, way higher than the national average of 26.3 percent.

“JICA shares the Philippines’ collective vision for just and lasting peace and inclusive development in Mindanao,” Ito said.

Mohagher Iqbal, the rebel group’s lead negotiator with the government who now heads the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, was quoted in the JICA statement as saying that the development plan “is not only historic but also an indispensable part of nation building.”

Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, for his part, was quoted as saying, “Despite the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the MILF is supporting the implementation of selected projects under the (Bangsamoro Development Plan) in core territories hardest hit by poverty.”

More than 3 million people are estimated to be in the Bangsamoro region, which covers nearly 1.5 million hectares in land area, mainly in central to western Mindanao.

The armed conflict in Mindanao, spanning over four decades because of the Muslim rebel groups’ desire for independence or autonomy, has claimed the lives of some 120,000 people and displaced millions of others.

It is also causing 20 billion pesos (about $425 million) in annual economic losses in terms of damages to businesses and properties, as well as potential investments that turn away due to the unstable security environment.