COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Representatives from Japan will tour central Mindanao starting Tuesday to inspect Japanese-funded projects meant to hasten the attainment of lasting peace in the country’s troubled south.
Japan, through its Japanese International Cooperation Agency, is a major benefactor of peace and development programs in the southern Philippines, particularly in underdeveloped provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The ARMM, which covers Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in mainland Mindanao, and the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, are common bastions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.
The visiting dignitaries will also visit the humanitarian service center it helped establish here along with the Community and Family Service International.
The CFSI, a partner of JICA, is engaged in humanitarian projects benefiting local marginalized sectors.
In an emailed advisory Monday, the Japanese Embassy in Manila said the visiting team shall also inspect a tilapia culture site in Sultan Mastura town in the first district of Maguindanao.
The inland fish propagation project involves poor ethnic Iranuns, some of them identified with the MILF.
The fish ponds are less than five kilometers west of the Camp Darapanan, the MILF’s main enclave, in Maguindanao’s nearby Sultan Kudarat town.
Japan has also been helping push the current government-MILF peace process forward through interventions intended to improve security and stabilize the economy in conflict-affected areas.
JICA also has dozens of ongoing projects designed to hasten the restoration of normalcy in areas where there are MILF camps to give rebels and their families convenient access to schools, to centers of commerce and trade, and to government health and social welfare.
Japan, in fact, has representatives to the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team, which is helping uphold since 2003 the ceasefire accord between the government and the MILF.
The IMT is comprised of soldiers and policemen from Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, and non-uniformed conflict resolution experts from Japan and Norway.
Monday’s news advisory from the Japanese embassy said the visiting team will also meet the present IMT mission head, Malaysian Army Major Gen. Wira Zamrose.
The Japanese government has been funding vital socio-economic projects in potential conflict flashpoint areas in ARMM for more than two decades now.
It even funded a recent study by the ARMM government on prospective road networks interconnecting the 116 towns in the autonomous region to provincial trading centers as a reference for the reconstruction of conflict-wracked areas into potential agriculture and fishery hubs.
The Japanese visitors are also expected to have a dialogue with officials of the MILF’s economic development outfit, the Bangsamoro Development Agency.