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PIA Press Release

Peace Secretary, US Ambassador turn over USAID projects in Basilan, Zamboanga

Lamitan, Basilan (12 July) -- US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney and Sec. Hermogenes Esperon, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process last July 10, inaugurated a bridge built here by the US government in partnership with the provincial and municipal governments and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The new 42-meter Camanse Bridge, constructed by USAID's Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, connects seven barangays and part of the neighboring municipality of Tipo-Tipo with Lamitan City, a major RORO port and trading hub in Basilan. The bridge replaced an old spillway which regularly overflowed, posing a danger to travelers who used it to cross the Camanse River.

Ambassador Kenney said that the bridge was one of 870 infrastructure projects constructed by USAID throughout ARMM and conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, and one of 40 in Basilan.

"We are always ready to work with our Philippine partners in support of peace and economic development," Ambassador Kenney said.

"This is not only a bridge for providing access, it is also a bridge for building friendship and solidarity," said Sec. Esperon.

Present at the inauguration were Governor Jum Jainuddin Akbar, Lamitan Mayor Roderick Furigay, USAID Mission Director Jon Lindborg, and USAID Economic Growth Advisor Robert Barnes.

"This past year, we've seen positive changes in our city's economy, brought about by assistance provided by USAID," said Mayor Furigay. "There are two earlier GEM infrastructure projects which are getting great results-the RORO facility in our port and the Tuburan road improvement. I'm certain the Camanse bridge will show the same positive results."

The party met with Hatimil Hassan, vice chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and members of two GEM-assisted MNLF cooperatives, led by Hji.Hussin Narimin, former finance officer of the 2nd MNLF Mobile Battalion, and Isni Undi, an MNLF member.

USAID has assisted approximately 28,000 MNLF members throughout Mindanao, including about 1,700 in Basilan, to make the transition from being combatants to being productive rice, corn, or seaweed farmers.

"The collaborative efforts of the U.S. and Philippine governments demonstrate to the Islamic Ummah the concern and support of these agencies for the well-being of the Bangsamoro people," said Vice Chairman Hassan.

Sec. Esperon and Ambassador Kenney turned over a motorboat engine assembly to serve as part of a live fish transport facility for the Tubigan Multi-purpose Cooperative of Maluso, and witnessed the signing of a sales agreement by the Al Fathi Islamic Producers Multipurpose Cooperative, which had been assisted by the GEM Program in fishpond cultivation.

They also met with Mayor Furigay and members of the Autonomous Basilan Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has worked to expand economic activity in the province with US government assistance.

"One of our chamber's milestones was holding 5th ARMM Business Congress in 2006, with USAID support," said Jann Jakilan, the president emeritus of the chamber, and also an MNLF commander. "It opened up new markets and got the local business community going. It built up our confidence in ourselves, and the confidence in us of businessmen outside Basilan."

Earlier, the Ambassador and Presidential Adviser called on Mayor Celso Lobregat in Zamboanga City, Together they launched a USAID-funded program for street children by the Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS2), and turned over computers and an internet installation provided under GEM's Computer Literacy and Internet Connection (CLIC) project to the Cabaluay National High School. The CLIC project has assisted 672 schools with an estimated 565,000 students across Mindanao.

The GEM Program is implemented with the oversight of MEDCo. (GEM/PIA) [top]

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