ARMM officials asked to ensure continuity of foreign-funded programs

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/07 March) – Foreign donor and creditor institutions have asked the present leadership of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to set up measures that would ensure the continuity of programs and projects they funded in the event that Congress postpones the elections scheduled on August 8 and gives Malacanang the power to appoint officers-in-charge (OICs) in the region.

Officials of the World Bank, Japan International Coordination Agency, UN-World Food Program, Australian Agency for International Development, US Agency for International Development, European Union and other foreign institutions aired the request in a forum in Makati City last Monday.

The forum was sponsored by ARMM officials led by Acting Regional Governor Ansaruddin A. Adiong to allow foreign donor and creditor institutions and provincial governors to air their assessment of foreign-funded projects completed or underway in the region.

At the forum, key officials of the international agencies generally described as either “very successful” or “satisfactory” the administration of foreign-funded projects in the region through the ARMM Social Fund Project (ASFP) under the year-old leadership of Adiong.

In a news conference, the foreign officials said that amid the Philippine Congress’ brewing debate on a bill postponing the Aug. 8, 2011 ARMM polls to 2013 and allowing the President to appoint OICs, uncertainty on the continuity of their funded projects in the region is equally rising.

They proposed to the ARMM administration to craft an operation mechanism that would ensure the continuity of “smooth” implementation of multi-million worth of projects in the region under any circumstances.

Mark C. Woodward, a key WB official said that they would want to “pursue” projects that address underdevelopment and peace concerns, mainly security and local governance, in the ARMM regardless of whether or not the regional leadership undergoes change of guard.

Last year, Mary Ann Judd, then outgoing WB country representative, had assessed as “satisfactory” the implementation of their earlier projects in the ARMM that ended in August last year, and consequently endorsed the provision of additional US$30-million financing to the region.

Judd once told project implementers and partners in a meeting in Davao City last year: “You are very lucky that you now have a net set of officials that abide strongly by the policy of transparency and good governance.”

In Monday’s forum, Woodward said the WB was preparing to release the fund in tranches upon the completion of field assessments now underway in the ARMM, particularly in Maguindanao.

He hinted that funds for identified projects in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and the cities of Lamitan and Marawi were already in the pipeline.

For his part, JICA Senior Representative Masuda Shinichi said his agency would keep up with its “favorable” partnership with the ARMM government in implementing projects that will enhance capability-building and poverty alleviation efforts in the region.

In another interview WFP country representative Steven Anderson cited their trailblazing partnership with the present ARMM administration in addressing the plight of hungry locals affected by conflicts and environmental concerns.

He urged other donor agencies to coordinate their projects to avoid redundancy and give other areas a chance.

But the foreign officials avoided commenting on the merits or demerits of the government move to defer and ARMM polls and allow the appointment of OICs, saying the issue is “internal” to the Philippines.

However, they expressed hope that the Aquino administration would be prudent in dealing with issues concerning autonomy, taking into consideration the mode of implementation of foreign-funded projects in the 21-year-old ARMM.

The forum was also attended by Governors Sakur Tan of Sulu and Esmael Mangudadatu of Maguindanao, and the representatives of Governors Mamintal Adiong Jr. of Lanao del Sur and Jum Akbar of Basilan. Tawi-Tawi was represented by Vice Governor Ruby Sahali.

In his assessment remarks, Tan described Adiong as a “statesman,” surprising many participants including journalists, who knew his previous tirades against the latter and his administration. (Ferdinand Cabrera/MindaNews)