Thursday, November 03, 2011

Manila defends MILF fund anew



COTABATO CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Nov. 3, 2011) – The Philippine government on Thursday defended anew the P5 million funding it gave to Muslim rebels negotiating peace with Manila as politicians continue to criticize the release of the money.

The funding is intended for capacity-building programs for emerging Muslim leaders and professional under the auspices of the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI). The money was handed to the MILF peace panel by its government counterpart only on August this year during a meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

“I am glad President Aquino gave the MILF P5 million for the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute. I was the Government’s chief negotiator with the MILF when, in 2006, we reached agreement (across the negotiating table in KL) to set up the BMLI,” said former government chief peace negotiator Silvestre Afable.

He said the BLMI, headed by Dr. Tomanda Antok, is an offshoot of an earlier agreement between peace panels to form the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) which oversees humanitarian projects in predominantly Muslim areas in Mindanao.

“The BMLI is an offshoot of an earlier agreement in 2001 to form the Bangsamoro Development Agency. At that time, the MILF wanted to try its hand at implementing its own development projects. As the BDA grew, it needed more personnel who could receive, disburse and account for funds; and supervise incipient development teams.”

“The BMLI was the envisioned training school for these personnel. We requested the Development Academy of the Philippines to work on the basic curriculum and devote trainers to the project, which was done with enthusiasm and zeal,” Afable said.

He said institutions such as the BDA and BMLI must not be treated negatively, because these, alongside the cease-fire between the government and the MILF, provide the necessary climate for negotiations and stem the urge among fighters to shoot each other.

“Confidence-building measures lie in the meat of any peace process anywhere in the world. While we seek a political solution in the peace talks, we try to safeguard the ceasefire like precious life itself, and carve out a positive direction for fighters-on-hold —who will hopefully trade their guns for ploughshares when a final settlement is reached.”

“The MILF itself has tried its level best to abide by this negotiation-ceasefire-development model as a transitional mechanism to a final political settlement. Many Filipinos are cynical about this, but I appreciate the fact that President Aquino is not,” Afable, who served during President Gloria Arroyo’s term, said.

Jesus Dureza, then Arroyo’s peace adviser, has denied that the past administration committed P5 million to the BLMI.

“Secretary Jess Dureza was then the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. He may have just forgotten that event,” Afable said.

Abigail Valte, President Aquino’s deputy spokesperson, said the money would also be used on various social projects. “The money was given in good faith to the MILF peace panel and we expect them to use this for social projects,” she said.

The MILF said the funding was part of the government’s commitment to the BLMI and approved by peace panels in April 2010.

Ghazali Jaafar, the Front’s deputy leader, has confirmed the funding was agreed upon during the time of President Gloria Arroyo and was just implemented by the Aquino government. “What’s important here is to have an institution and training for Bangsamoro professionals,” he said.

Jaafar also doused fears by critics of the MILF that the money was or could be used to purchase weapons for rebels, saying, there is proper accounting procedures on how the government funding would be spent for BLMI programs.

Besides the Philippines, the MILF said Japan is also supporting the BLMI and funded the construction of building in the town of Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao province under its Grant Assistance for Human Security Grassroots Project.

The BDA, on the other hand, continues to actively participate in relief, rehabilitation and development of conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. Since 2002, the BDA, as the development arm of the MILF, continues to pursue the process of improvement of the quality of life of the Muslim communities.

It promotes a model of development anchored on the belief of stewardship and on values of inclusiveness, fairness, transparency, and accountability. Among its strategic development actions aimed at promoting growth in quality and equitable life for the Muslims are: Socio-economic Improvement and Development Strategy; Health Improvement and Development Strategy; Environmental Advocacy and Management Strategy; and Capacity Building and Strengthening Strategy.

The BDA, headed by Dr. Saffrullah M. Dipatuan, its chairman, is engaged in the implementation of numerous programs and activities such as trainings on values transformation; medical missions; livelihood trainings; and socio-economic reconstruction and development in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao through its partnership with the Office of the (Philippines) Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the World Bank, the World Food Program and other government and nongovernmental funding agencies.

The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, is fighting for self-determination in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

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