Help from friends
Even as prominent officials and much of the public are obsessing over weighty matters like a spat between two mistresses that led to a power (and money) struggle between prominent congressmen (one of them the Speaker, no less), our friends abroad are choosing to look the other way and chipping in with their own contributions to help in the country’s development.
Most recently, the government of Japan donated $6.2 million to Unicef, the UN children’s agency, to support peacebuilding and education efforts for children in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. Among these children, we are told, are children “disengaged” from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s armed forces, otherwise known as child soldiers.
The program, Unicef says, is “broadly aligned with the country’s peace process under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro led by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.”
Unicef Philippines representative Lotta Sylwander attested to the value of the partnership between her organization and the Japanese government. “We are very happy to begin a close partnership with the government of Japan,” said Sylwander. Japan, she added, has been a staunch supporter of the peace process and the economic and social development of Mindanao, and they both believe that “children can only grow and develop to their full potential if they live in a peaceful society without armed conflict.”
Targeted interventions in behalf of children in Mindanao are particularly important. After all, conflict affects many aspects of children’s development, including survival, gender equity, poverty reduction and access to education. Studies show that children living in fragile or conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to be malnourished, three times as likely to miss primary school, and almost twice as likely to die before age five compared to children living in more peaceful, stable environments.
The situation also has broader implications. Social and economic indicators in conflict-affected Mindanao, especially in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, continue to be significantly lower than for the rest of the country. Says Unicef: “While the Philippines has been enjoying several years of rapid economic growth, the situation of children in Mindanao remains alarming, with some of the indicators at the level comparable to least developed countries such as Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic.” One example: only one of every 10 students in ARMM who begin elementary education will graduate from high school.
To address this appalling situation, the program aims to “deliver quality enhancement and expansion of basic social services through basic education, early learning and social re-integration of conflict-affected children and youth.” Unicef says the program will also support children who have left the armed forces of the MILF through measures like social protection, psychosocial support, life skills training and other learning opportunities.
The project, said Japanese Ambassador Kazuhide Ishikawa, “marks another milestone in strengthening the friendship between the peoples of Japan and the Philippines as well as the strategic partnership between our two countries.”
Of late, the peace process between the government and different groups of Moro rebels, foremost of which is the MILF, seems to have taken a back seat to the negotiations with the communist rebels. The peace process in Mindanao seems to be stuck in limbo, even as poverty and ignorance condemn another generation of children living under the shadow of conflict to a dark future. The Unicef project, with valuable support from the Japanese government, is aimed at addressing the fundamental injustice that afflict children in conflict-affected areas and which could lead to a fresh and deadlier armed campaign. This is centered mainly on education, which, according to Ambassador Ishikada, is “surely the key for peace and development in the long run… the foundation for their future through utilizing the expertise of Unicef.”
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