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October 23, 2018

JICA Supports Peace Process Aimed at Establishing a Bangsamoro Government

On July 27, 2018, the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which is needed to establish a new autonomous government for the Moro people, was approved by Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

The BOL is the enabling law of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was signed between the government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March 2014. The signing of the BOL is expected to further accelerate the process toward the establishment of a Bangsamoro government.

photoMuslim shop owners sell vegetables on a street corner in Maguindanao province, in Mindanao, the Philippines.

For many years, JICA has been supporting the peace process between the GPH and MILF. With hope for the future of all the people of Mindanao and so they can live in peace, JICA will continue providing assistance toward the establishment of a Bangsamoro government.

The Moros, who are the Muslim population of the Philippines, make up 5 percent of the country's 100 million population. Many of them live in the southwest part of the island of Mindanao in a region called Bangsamoro (meaning “the land of the Moro”).

photoThe island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. The green section is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Islam took root in Mindanao in the 14th century as a result of the missionary activities of Arab traders and teachers who came along the trade routes.

For hundreds of years, violent armed conflict occurred between the Moros and the Spanish colonizers. The American colonizers annexed Mindanao and Sulu into the territory of the Philippines with the grant of independence on July 4, 1946.

The Moros have been fighting for their right to self-determination, having created a society and culture of their own. Hundreds of thousands of people are said to have died in the conflict since the 1970s.

Supporting soldiers who have laid down their weapons

photoSoldiers get hands-on training in seed planting.

"So it'll be easy to weed, don't scatter the seeds. Plant them in straight rows. Finally, cover them with soil." JICA is conducting training at an experimental farm in a MILF community managed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PHILRICE), which serves as a service provider of JICA. Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the military wing of MILF, are the ones being trained in planting seeds to grow rice on dry land. They have made a living as part-time farmers and part-time soldiers to protect the land they've inherited.

In Bangsamoro, which has been affected by conflict for more than 40 years, infrastructure and social services such as education and medical care got off to a slow start and the poverty rate is high because the region has been left behind as the country has developed socioeconomically. The goal of this agriculture technical training is to improve the living standards of the farmer-combatants through upland rice-based farming technology support from JICA.

photoSoldiers learn techniques for growing rice on dry land.

The soldiers who got the training had many good things to say about beginning rice farming: "My income rose and I was able to pay off my debts." "I bought a motorcycle." "Rice is a staple food for us, and after I started growing it, my life got easier because I no longer had to buy it." So far about 500 soldiers have undergone the training.

This agriculture training project is being implemented under the Comprehensive Capacity Development Project for the Bangsamoro (CCDP), which JICA began in 2013. The CCDP is aimed at creating a foundation for a smooth transition to a Bangsamoro government.

"After the training, some of the farmers switched from growing corn to growing rice. Some farmers also taught the techniques to other soldiers, so the training is getting results," said JICA expert Koji Demizu, who is in charge of the project.

Building trust and fulfilling local needs

As the conflict is about to end, the project has worked to construct the organizations and systems of the new government, to spread public services, to develop communities and to stimulate economic activity, so the people of conflict affected areas in Mindanao can live with peace of mind. In cooperation with the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), JICA has offered the human resources who will administer the new government opportunities to learn from the examples of Japan and other countries about the justice and parliamentary systems needed to create a draft Bangsamoro Organic Law and about systems related to fundamental rights.

JICA's Koji Sakane, the senior director of the Office for Peacebuilding and Reconstruction, described the progression of JICA's support so far.

photoA JICA expert, left, visits a MILF military base.

"Over the 15 years since JICA announced its Mindanao support package for peace and stability in 2002, which was much earlier than the peace agreement between the government and MILF, JICA has supported conflict-affected areas in sectors including agriculture, poverty reduction and small-scale infrastructure. Under the JAPAN-BANGSAMORO Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development (J-BIRD), with the CCDP playing the core role, the government of Japan has engaged in a wide range of comprehensive support for stakeholders. This has included dispatching JICA staff to the International Monitoring Team (IMT); supporting the ARMM Social Fund for Peace and Development Project, which assists with the establishment of resident-led education and medical facilities and the improvement of water supply and roads; and supporting the restoration and recovery plan after the Marawi Siege, an armed conflict in Marawi City that broke out in May 2017."

photoA school on the island of Mindanao built with Japanese assistance. The children learn together regardless of religious differences.

"Leveraging the trust we have fostered through long years of cooperation by both the MILF and the Philippine government, JICA has carried out its role as an intermediary between the two parties. I believe the people of Mindanao feel that JICA's responsive support will lead to a life of peace and stability. There was a time when the stagnation of the peace process increased the dissatisfaction of the members of MILF, but the Bangsamoro Organic Law coming into effect recently as the result of long years of ironing out differences was an enormous step, and I am delighted. JICA will continue working with the people of the Philippines and cooperating toward regional stability and recovery."


Toward the establishment of a Bangsamoro government

With the enactment of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, preparations will begin to establish a Bangsamoro government in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

"In Mindanao, where our project is based, people are expressing joy over the singing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, a symbol of the peace process for which they have waited impatiently for many years. In the long process so far, there have been many battles that have cost lives, including the intensification of fighting after the deadlock in the peace negotiations in 2008 and the 2015 Mamasapano clash*, so progress has by no means been smooth. The enactment of the Bangsamoro Organic law is a big step in the peace process, but it is not the end. JICA will continue its assistance so the people of Bangsamoro can truly experience peace and stability," said Hiroshi Takeuchi, the chief advisor of the CCDP.

Next, a transition process will begin, including a referendum to determine the territory of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region and the establishment of a transitional government structure.


*The Mamasapano clash
The Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police, which was pursuing leaders of an Islamic extremist organization, entered the municipality of Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, without any prior notice to MILF, with whom the government had agreed to a cease-fire. As a result, a gun battle broke out between the two sides that killed many people including members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force, MILF soldiers and some


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