Japan allots P24-M for Pikit peace-building project

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/4 Nov) – The Japanese government has allotted some P24 million as part of continuing efforts to foster peace and development in Mindanao, particularly benefiting Pikit, a town in North Cotabato that has seen five major wars since 1997 between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces.

A statement from the Japanese embassy said that Ambassador Toshinao Urabe and Yukiyo Nomura, country director of Intercommunication Center for Asia and Nippin (ICAN) Philippines, signed on Thursday the grant contract for “Peace Building Project through Education in Conflict Affected Areas in Pikit, Mindanao Phase I.”

The project, amounting to $561,795, is funded through the Grant Assistance for Japanese NGO Projects, a small-grant funding program of Japan’s Official Development Assistance.

“Pikit witnessed armed conflicts several times in the past, and the residents were forced to evacuate and return repeatedly. Since the security condition is relatively stable these days, more and more children want to go back to school,” the statement said.

However, the municipality has not provided sufficient learning environments for them. There are only five classrooms in the Sultan Kudarat Memorial High School with more than 300 students, it added

The number of students per classroom in the school is over 60, so they need to endure the congestion, the Japanese embassy said, adding that even an outside stage is used to accommodate some students.

“Many children are also suffering from trauma or stress due to the series of conflicts. They lost their family members or relatives and assets. To prevent these children from holding hostility toward people with different religions and halt the vicious cycle of violence, it is imperative to promote the peace education in this region,” the embassy statement said.

Japan, a member of the International Monitoring Team and the International Contact Group, played host to the historic meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim last August in a bid to fast-track the peace process in Mindanao.

The announcement of the project for Pikit came as the peace panels of the government and the MILF met anew in Kuala Lumpur also on Thursday, more than two months since their last meeting on August 23.

Under the project, a six-classroom building will be constructed and a two-classroom building will be repaired for the Sultan Kudarat Memorial High School.

Armchairs, teacher’s desks and tables, and blackboards will also be provided.

The construction of a new school building will address the growing concern over classroom congestion and will provide the students with an improved learning environment.

In addition, ICAN Philippines will conduct the “School of Peace Training” for the students and teachers. In the training, students will learn how to address quarrels or fights peacefully without resorting to violence, and teachers will be equipped with know-how to deal with children with trauma or stress.

The Grant Assistance for Japanese NGO Projects started in the Philippines in 2002.

Since then, the Japanese Government has disbursed approximately P156 million for a total of 26 projects in the Philippines.

Japan expressed belief that the latest project will strengthen not only the friendship between the peoples of Japan and the Philippines but also the existing strategic partnership between Japan and the Philippines. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)