Mindanao Trust Fund to be extended by 2 years

DAVAO CITY -- Proponents of the 11-year-old Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF), a multi-donor grant facility, have agreed to extend its duration by two more years, or until 2019, to sustain ongoing projects and to serve as a bridge between now and the planned launching of a bigger funding program.

At the supposed closing program for the MTF Tuesday, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus G. Dureza said the MTF extension is intended “to ensure that the projects would be sustained” as these are considered key to resolving peace concerns.

The amount for the extended MTF fund has yet to be determined, but Mara Warwick, country director of World Bank (WB), the MTF’s implementing agency, said they are now in discussions with previous and potential new donors.

“It is our commitment while the government is putting in place the bigger facility,” said Ms. Warwick.

After the two year period, the MTF will be replaced by the Bangsamoro Normalization Fund, according to Dr. Saffrullah M. Dipatuan, Chair of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA).

The BDA, the development arm of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), serves as a conduit in the MTF implementation.

Mr. Dipatuan said some of the MTF projects “are not yet ripe to be abandoned.”

The WB and the European Union (WB) have assured continued support to Mindanao peace and development initiatives as the 11-year-old MTF Reconstruction and Development Program was formally closed in ceremonies held in Davao City last Tuesday.

In a press statement, the EU said a fresh P200-million fund for the next 18 months has been approved to support the peace process, including helping the government monitor the situation, diffuse tensions on the ground, and to create a more inclusive political platform that will bring together Mindanao’s diverse population.

“Peace is fundamental for economic development,” said EU Ambassador to the Philippines Fran Jessen.

The EU is the largest contributor to the MTF at P1.17 billion out of the P1.4 billion total funding.

Further, the EU “is developing a comprehensive peace and development programme to push for peace and development in Mindanao.”

In an interview with BusinessWorld in Davao earlier this year, Mr. Jessen said: “We believe this (assistance) is necessary, especially now when the peace initiatives have taken a better shape.”

Ms. Warwick also said the bank is planning new “supported programs for Mindanao to sustain efforts toward attaining peace and development, generating jobs, building strong institutions, and supporting social cohesion on the ground. So much needs to be done to address poverty and vulnerability in the Bangsamoro and Mindanao in general.”

Aside from the EU, other supporters of the WB-administered MTF are Sweden, Australia, Canada, the United States, New Zealand.

On the government’s part, Mr. Dureza said the MTF was also instrumental in building confidence between the government and the MILF whose communities have benefited from the implementation of the project.

“The Mindanao Trust Fund has helped a lot to improve the access of Bangsamoro communities to basic services such as clean water, roads, farming equipment and community centers,” said Mr. Dureza.

Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, MILF chair, said the project has been among the key instruments in the peace process as it helped the people in conflict-affected areas improve their lives.

“This is why we are thankful to the Philippine government and the international community for working with the MILF through programs like the Mindanao Trust Fund to make people in conflict-affected areas feel that the peace process is moving,” said Mr. Murad.

In the past 11 years, the MTF funded 573 infrastructure projects, livelihood and functional literacy programs in 315 conflict-affected communities across 75 municipalities in Mindanao, benefiting about 650,000 people, about half of them women.