P845M in EU grants to Mindanao eyed for COVID-19 response
The European Union (EU) and the Philippines are in talks to possibly divert at least P845 million in grants earlier set aside for peace-building initiatives in Mindanao to COVID-19 response also in the conflict-ridden southern island.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, on behalf of the Philippine government, and EU Delegation to the Philippines chargé d’affaires ad interim Thomas Wiersing on Friday (July 17) exchanged two financing agreements: P2-billion grant for Rise Mindanao and P1.4-billion grant for Support to Bangsamoro Transition (Subatra).
Top officials of the newly formed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) witnessed the online event.
“Both of these two programs will be implemented in Mindanao,” said Wiersing.
He said the programs support the Philippine government’s fast-track development of underdeveloped and areas lagging in progress.
“The poor, vulnerable and conflict-affected communities have a clear stake in these programs, having suffered from years of social strife and economic hardship,” Wiersing said.
“Over the past 25 years, the EU has been a key actor in Mindanao working with the government and civil society organizations in promoting peace, human security and development including in the most vulnerable and conflict-affected communities,” he said.
But as the COVID-19 crisis also took its toll on Mindanao’s health and economic sectors, Wiersing said the EU “stands ready to assist the Philippine government… by reorienting some of the funds to addressing the short to medium-term consequences of the pandemic.”
“Reorientation could be towards mitigation of the impact of pandemic to health, social and economic recovery,” he said.
He added that depending on results of discussions with the Philippine government he estimated that up to P845 million “could be reoriented to address the impact of COVID-19 in the Philippines.”
Wiersing said at an online press briefing that the P845 million could come from the two grants that total P3.4 billion and from other financing agreements that are in the pipeline.
Some components of Rise Mindanao and Subatra, as a result, could take a backseat in the meantime to COVID-19 funding. Wiersing said addressing the health and socioeconomic impact of the pandemic was “urgent.”
In the case of the BARMM, Dominguez said the national and the Bangsamoro governments continued to thresh out issued for the region to move to greater autonomy despite the COVID-19 menace.
BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim said that since 2019, the Bangsamoro ministerial form of government was establishing 15 ministries and parliament—all operational until the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the process.
Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, of the BARMM’s Ministry of the Interior and Local Government, said the influx of individuals returning to the region from coronavirus hot spots Metro Manila and Cebu and those arriving from Sabah were padding coronavirus infections in BARMM.
The region had less than 20 cases in the first week of June but now has 395 cases.
Sinarimbo said it didn’t help that the region has not enough testing facilities in its provinces—Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
“We need to address that difficulty,” he said, adding that BARMM also needed more quarantine facilities.
Sinarimbo said it helped that the region was mostly reliant on agriculture and fisheries, which were relatively spared by the pandemic.
Sinarimbo, however, said the lack of commercial flights to commercial centers had been preventing BARMM residents from getting hold of essential agriculture inputs for their local markets.
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