Peace in Mindanao? ?Canada is in it for the long haul,? Ambassador says

Canada added P40 million to the MTF raised by the World Bank for reconstruction and development projects in the conflict-affected areas, in preparation for the signing of a peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Last year, Canada gave P30 million to the Fund.

Since 1990, the Canadian government had been providing substantial assistance to the Philippines, particularly Mindanao.

Sutherland said a lot has been accomplished since they had been supporting local governance and peace initiatives here. “The agreement of 1996 and the ceasefire three plus years ago. These are concrete developments on the peace front that have been very encouraging,” he said, referring to the 1996 “Final Peace Agreement” between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the reiteration of the 1997 general cessation of hostilities agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF in the aftermath of the Buliok war in 2003.

Sure there’s gonna be problems as the secretary (Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) mentioned but the fundamental reality is you have two significant agreements — the peace agreement with the MNLF and the ceasefire with the MILF and progress towards a long-term peace agreement with the MILF, so we are very encouraged by that and it just reinforces in our mind the link between development and peace.”

Sutherland said that with respect to the peace process, “we realize more and more how you can’t separate development and peace.”

If you’re gonna have long-term sustainable development, you need to have a peaceful situation on the ground so more and more we are looking at working with our projects to clear the climate on the ground, to be conducive and supportive and encouraging to long-term peace,” he said.

Over the years of exposure in Mindanao, Canada’s view of Mindanao, has also changed, said Steven Rheault-Kihara, counselor of the Political/Economic Relations and Public Affairs of the Canadian Embassy.

Kihara told MindaNews the titles on the briefing papers for their Ambassadors have, over the years, changed from “Mindanao Problem” to “Mindanao Challenge” to “Mindanao Promise.”

After the press conference, MindaNews asked Sutherland why on the one hand Canada is seen as helping build peace in Mindanao, but on the other, some Canadian firms have been accused of triggering conflict in another part of Mindanao, such as TVI in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, an accusation the mining firm denies.

Indigenous peoples in the area claim the mining firm encroached on their ancestral domain.

“I would disagree that they’re triggering conflict,” Sutherland quickly replied.

What they’re trying to do is to develop the economy in the area where they’re working for their own interests and the company because it is an opportunity to develop mineral resources which will earn profit for them. At the same time, they are active in social development role with the Subanon community in that region,” he said, adding the firm has been providing economic projects in the area “in addition to and apart from what they’re doing from mine development.”

So from a government perspective, what something like this does is create jobs and economic opportunities on the ground,” the ambassador said, adding, “we work with companies like TVI to ensure that they are good community citizens. The concept is called corporate social responsibility. We want our companies to be as good community citizens in the Philippines as they are in Canada,” he said.

Sutherland said that just recently, a series of consultations had been made in Canada “addressing just that issue, particularly with respect to extractive industries such as mining, oil exploration” and the consultations brought together “the public, the industry itself, the non-governmental organizations, some of whom are opposed to mining, governmental organizations” and together, he said, they asked “what can we do collectively to provide some kind of standards” and how they could help these industries meet the standards.

Sutherland said new standards have been developed and are being recommended for adoption by the Canadian government.
“The recommendations have been made by the committee. They’re now being considered by the government and the government is about to respond.”

He said the standards are intended for firms operating outside Canada to exercise the same diligence and standards outside of their home base.