Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Kenney Braves Sayyaf Stronghold To Hand-over Wharf Project

US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney. (Zamboanga Journal)

JOLO ISLAND (Zamboanga Journal / 26 Apr) Reaffirming Washington's commitment to lasting peace and economic development in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, US Ambassador to Manila Kristie Kenney visited Jolo island on Wednesday and led officials in handing over the upgraded P37-million wharf to the municipal government of Maimbung.

“This improved facility will contribute to reducing transport costs, to increasing agricultural production and to facilitating the residents’ access to social services,” said Kenney, who also visited Basilan early this month where she turned over a P20-million bridge to the municipal government of Sumisip.

She said the US government understands the critical importance of sound infrastructure in generating economic growth, and also appreciates the need to expanding economic opportunities and to sustain peace in Mindanao, south of the Philippines.

Kenney was accompanied by Jon Lindborg, Mission Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)–Philippines, Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and Robert Barnes, Economic Growth Advisor of USAID–Philippines. Benjamin Loong, Jolo governor and Hadji Najib Maldisa, Mayor of Maimbung, also attended the ceremony.

Constructed by USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, the improved Maimbung Wharf is an important entry and exit point for more than 25,000 local residents. Maimbung is the second largest town in Jolo.

GEM’s Mid-Scale Infrastructure Program (MSIP) started rehabilitating the deteriorating wharf in November 2004. Upgrading and rehabilitation activities were completed this month. Prior to its rehabilitation, the wharf lacked appropriate berthing facilities which jeopardized the safety of both passengers and cargo.

The upgrading included the construction of a landing platform, which provides a berthing space, and a better docking area for medium-sized vessels. Stairway landing structures for small boats were also constructed and a damaged 200-meter rock causeway was rehabilitated.

“Constructing boat stairway landing structures on both sides of the rock causeway provides docking space for smaller motorized boats,” said Carlos Tan, GEM’s Deputy Chief of Party for Infrastructure.

He explained that the improvements made to the wharf will have a direct and positive increase on economic activities in Maimbung, since more traders and entrepreneurs will be encouraged to open new businesses in the area.

Kenney also visited the Maimbung National High School, which received internet-connected computers from GEM’s Computer Literacy and Internet Connection (CLIC) Program. In addition to ten computers, GEM also provided the school with a high speed internet connection, and peripherals including software, a printer, a local area network, e-books and books on computers and the internet.

The computers link the school to the World Wide Web through a satellite-based internet connection that allows the students to conduct research, create e-mail accounts and communicate with other students throughout the world.

To date, CLIC has provided internet connections and internet-connected computers to 300 public high schools and central elementary schools in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and other conflict-affected areas in the region. These schools have a total enrollment of approximately 295,000 students, and are served by more than 8,800 teachers.

An additional 125 schools in the ARMM and adjacent conflict-affected areas in Mindanao will be connected by September this year, and another 280 the year thereafter. The CLIC Program plans to connect a total of 700 schools in Mindanao by October, 2007.

GEM is a five-year initiative that began in September 2002. It undertakes a wide range of projects to increase economic productivity, and to contribute t attaining lasting peace in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. The Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo) oversees GEM’s implementation. (Teng Reyes/GEM)

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