Australia donates Aus$1.8M more for Mindanao peace efforts

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 31 July) – The Australian government has approved an additional grant of Aus$1.8 million as support to the continuing peace process in Mindanao.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who announced the fresh financial grant in an emailed statement on Wednesday, said such move is part of his government’s commitment to help achieve lasting peace in the island.

“Expanding our support for peace in Mindanao is a concrete statement of Australia’s concern for the poor of that long-suffering region, and our interest in the achievement of long-lasting peace,” Carr said.

Australia will specifically provide Aus$1.3 million to the Mindanao Trust Fund to help improve the ongoing livelihood, health and education interventions for conflict-affected communities.

It will also provide Aus$500,000 to the World Bank and the United Nations to assist the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the finalization of the Bangsamoro basic law.

Such assistance will be in the form of training, policy advice and other technical help.

“Australia’s support will strengthen law, justice and governance, and help out with transition programs for former combatants,” the statement said.

The government and the MILF signed in October last year the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), which serves as the blueprint for the final peace deal.

The agreement provides for the creation of the Bangsamoro entity with greater political and economic powers than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Such provisions will be embodied in the proposed Bangsamoro basic law that will replace the organic act that created the ARMM.

In his fourth state-of-the-nation address last July 22, President Benigno S. Aquino III formally asked Congress to work on the passage of the proposed law before the end of 2014.

On July 14, the government and MILF peace panels made strides with the signing of the Annex on Revenue Generation and WealthSharing.

It is one of the four annexes, along with the FAB, that will complete the comprehensive agreement.

The other annexes are on power-sharing and normalization, and are still under discussion. The Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities was signed in February.

Melissa Parke, Australia’s Minister for International Development, commended the national government and the MILF “on their excellent progress towards peace.”

“Australia is very proud to support their efforts. Peace is a pre-requisite for the development and poverty alleviation that is so sorely needed in this poverty-stricken part of the Philippines,” she said.

Parke added that Australia shares the hope of the government and the MILF “that a peace agreement will end the decades-long conflict.”

“We will continue to work with our partners and the people of Mindanao to ensure the benefits of peace are felt by all,” she added.

The statement noted that in recent years, around half of Australia’s assistance program in the Philippines has gone to Mindanao.

“Australian aid is introducing education opportunities in vulnerable and remote communities where school-based education has not been possible due to decades of ongoing conflicts,” it said.

In the past 12 months, Australian aid has helped open over 400 community learning centers and provided access to basic education to more than 11,000 children in Mindanao.

“Australian aid is also boosting the ability of local communities and security forces in the southern Philippines to work together to better manage conflict situations, as well as bringing women’s voices into peace negotiations,” the statement added.