Address to BTA Parliament in Cotabato City

2023.01.18

Cotabato, Philippines

Hon. Vice Speaker of BTA, Omar C. Sema,
Hon. Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Ahod B. Ebrahim,
Distinguished members of BTA Parliament, everyone present here today,
As-salamu alaykum Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.

It is a great honor and privilege as the President of JICA, to have this precious opportunity to speak in front of the Members of BTA Parliament. It has been seven years since my last visit to Cotabato City in 2015. Today, thanks to the tremendous efforts of all of you, with the people living in this region, the peace process has significantly advanced. I sincerely congratulate on your tireless and constructive efforts in achieving this great progress.

This week, you are celebrating the fourth (4th) anniversary of "Bangsamoro Foundation Day", and I feel honored to be present at this very special time for the Bangsamoro people.

JICA has been committed to the peace in Mindanao for decades. In 2002, the Japanese Government announced, "The Support Package for Peace and Stability in Mindanao." Consequently, JICA has always been closely working with you. For instance, then JICA President OGATA Sadako visited Camp Darapanan in 2006 and met with MILF Chairman Al. Haj Murad Ebrahim, followed by a meeting with then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in Manila. Those dialogues confirmed our mutual strong commitment to the peace process. Eventually, Japan launched a new comprehensive assistance package called "Japan-Bangsamoro Initiative for Reconstruction and Development," also known as J-BIRD.

Then President OGATA's message at the time that "development will contribute to achieving peace", this message gave hope for the peace in Mindanao. Since then, we have been working together, believing that "realizing human security is the foundation for peace."

Actually, this is my second time to serve as the JICA President. In my first presidential term from 2012 to 2015, I made 4 visits to the Philippines. I chose Cotabato City as the first stop of my business trip in 2012. In 2014, I also attended the historic signing ceremony of "the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro", between the Philippine Government and MILF at Malacañang Palace. Shortly thereafter, I directed our staff to start what we call the "Quick Impact Project" for the quick delivery of "dividends of peace" to the people in this region. In 2015, I returned to this region as the last place to visit for my first term in office. On that trip, I visited Kibleg Elementary School in Upi where two classrooms were quickly constructed under JICA's cooperation. It was my great pleasure to have witnessed the outcome of the project and the smiles of the children.

In 2015, the passage of "the Bangsamoro Organic Law" or BOL was still uncertain. However, after overcoming various tough challenges, the BOL was finally enacted in 2018, paving the way for the creation of the BARMM and the establishment of BTA Parliament in 2019.

This esteemed Parliament is a symbol of unity and democracy of the Bangsamoro. And I am honored to be here today to speak before the representatives of the Bangsamoro people, who have achieved this great progress.

For me, the peace and development in Mindanao is very special. I am truly happy and proud to work with all of you for the attainment of this purpose in the region, which is also essential for the prosperity of the entire Philippines.

I understand that BTA and BTA Parliament are putting every effort to let the people feel the dividends of peace, by respecting the diversity of people and by ensuring that everyone enjoys fairness and transparency in every aspect.

In particular, the BTA and BTA Parliament have been working to create functional and constructive relationships with the Government of the Philippines, as well as with the Local Government Units. You have also been tackling various difficult tasks in building foundation of governance such as drafting of the Electoral Code, the Local Government Code, and the Revenue Code. JICA extends our utmost respect to all your actions to represent the voices of your diverse people, and to your strong commitment for the peaceful future of this region.

The next major milestone is the upcoming elections in 2025. Needless to say, it is important that the elections will be transparent and fair so that the outcome will be accepted by the people. In addition to free and fair elections, inclusiveness, consideration for minority opinions, and freedom of speech are also essential elements both in the parliament and in the government. To realize them, constructive dialogue and consensus building are important, and the people of Bangsamoro have respected and worked on these difficult tasks throughout the peace process. Therefore, I am confident that BTA Parliament will become a true model of a democratic, inclusive, and well-functioning parliament.

As your long-standing and most reliable partner, JICA continues to collaborate with you in areas such as governance and administrative capacity development, job creation, better quality of life, among many others. Last year JICA announced the extension of our technical cooperation project in line with the extension of the transition period. JICA also continues to support the normalization process to help decommissioned combatants and their community to improve their livelihoods by dispatching Japanese experts to share the know-how on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and enhancing the capacity of TVET centers in Marawi, Basilan and Maguindanao.

Meanwhile, for the medium- and long-term socioeconomic development, JICA has been supporting the improvement and reconstruction of socioeconomic infrastructures in conflict affected areas such as national roads and farm-to-market roads through financial cooperation. These efforts aim to bring opportunities for decent work, which is key for a better quality of life, prosperity, and sustainable peace.

At this point, I would like to express my deepest sympathies for the severe damage in this region caused by Typhoon Paeng last October and November. At present, it has become increasingly important to mitigate the risks associated with climate change, including natural disasters. JICA is now considering new areas of cooperation to make the BARMM more resilient against these threats.

Furthermore, in response to the request from BTA Parliament, JICA is currently planning to invite some parliament members to Japan. We hope that it will be of great help for BTA Parliament to build a better democratic system for the region, taking into account Japan's experiences, strengths and weaknesses, and lessons learnt.

The world has changed dramatically during the last few years, due to multiple compounding crises accelerated by COVID-19, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and climate change. Unfortunately, international peace and order are facing serious challenges. Some countries in the world have been experiencing political and social instability. However, you have made steady progress to this point in your pursuit of peace, even in the face of numerous difficulties. This is not a miracle. I know your aspiration for peace is unwavering. It has been achieved through the persistent efforts of all the people in the region. And the peace in this region does not only give hope to Mindanao or the Philippines. It gives hope to the world that consolidation of peace is possible through constructive dialogues. And peace is maintained by ensuring human security for all. Therefore, I believe that the peace process in Mindanao can be a shining model to realize human security in the world facing the multiple compounding crises.

In closing, I reiterate that JICA will continue to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Bangsamoro region as a long-standing, the most reliable partner, and a true friend of all people in Bansamoro region as well as in the entire Philippines.

Thank you very much.
Shukran jazeelan
Maraming salamat po!

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