Australia to increase aid to RP

Ambassador Tony Hely said its present development assistance to the Philippines, reportedly Australia's sixth largest in the world, is “set to increase from A$60 to A$70 million” this year to further improve the country's peace and security programs and the education and mining sectors.

“Some 60 percent of our assistance is directed to Mindanao and this priority will continue as Australia's development assistance to the Philippines is set to grow significantly over the next five years,” Hely stressed in his speech at the closing luncheon of the 3rd Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East Asean Growth Area Cluster Meeting on Joint Tourism Development here on Tuesday.

He said the other areas of priority of their assistance to Mindanao include human resource development, community development, health and assistance to poor and marginalized residents.

Hely said they would specifically continue to contribute to the World Bank Trust Fund, an assistance facility earlier established in preparation for the signing of a final peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

He said Australia will continue its A$10 million counter-terrorism cooperation program that was designed to build up the country's capacity in law enforcement, immigration, port and transport security.

Hely said a significant chunk of the Australian government's assistance to Mindanao would be allotted for education and mining, which they consider among their new areas of “reflection and focus.”

He said at least 12 Australian companies are presently working on various mining projects in the country, most of which are located in Mindanao.

He said two of the biggest mining ventures, each requiring investments of over US$1 billion, are based in Mindanao — the BHP Billiton/QNI Pujada Nickel Project in Davao Oriental and the Indophil-Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) Copper and Gold Project in nearby Tampakan town in South Cotabato.

“The development of the mining sector offers huge potential economic benefits for Mindanao and investments of such magnitude will certainly have a huge impact on the local economy,” Hely said.

In the Tampakan project, which he personally visited on Tuesday afternoon, Hely said various major infrastructure such as a new power station, port and roads would be constructed in the area if the project would open as planned in 2009.

SMI, Indophil's local partner, is presently conducting exploratory drilling as part of the ongoing feasibility study for the Tampakan copper and gold project, which covers the tri-boundaries of South Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat provinces.

The company's proposed mining area reportedly hosts the largest underdeveloped copper deposits in Southeast Asia.

Hely said his government is planning to provide training support and apprenticeship to various technical and vocational institutions in Mindanao, specializing on various skills required for mining operations.

So far, he said at least 10 Filipino scholars are presently taking post-graduate studies on geo-sciences and mining under the Australian Agency for International Development fellowship program.

Hely added that a delegation from Australia's Northern Territory, which had forged a development partnership with BIMP-EAGA, is set to visit several parts of Mindanao later this year to conduct trainings on mining safety, mine rehabilitation, mine management software and mine site supply. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)