EU extends P.5M aide for civilians in recent Mindanao clashes; reiterates call for early resumption of peace talks
Manila (7 October) -- The European Union (EU) in Manila on Monday announced "immediate but short-term assistance" worth Euro7 million (about P500.000) for civilian victims of the recent spate of clashes between Philippine government troops and rebel forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Implementation of the project takes between six to nine months, according to EU head of Delegation, Ambassador Alistair MacDonald.
In giving the humanitarian assistance, MacDonald said Europe acknowledges that the Philippine government "is doing a lot" to alleviate the conditions of victims, "but it is clear that resources are very overstretched."
He said that EU's "immediate concern is the civilians who have been displaced and in the longer term, the efforts that we have put in to small scale community-based development in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. It has been appreciated by the communities and I'm confident that these successes will not be endangered in the long term."
At the same time, MacDonald repeated EU's urgings for both the Philippine government and the MILF "to agree to early return to the negotiating table in order to seek lasting solution to the conflict."
He added the EU has not been asked to help in mediating the peace talks.
"I think the main thing that we can say on the peace process is precisely what we said in the EU statement (of Sept. 15)."
Latest reports indicate about 500,000 Muslim and non-Muslims have been displaced from their homes in the spate of intermittent clashes triggered by MILF incursions into mainly Christian barangays in southern-central Mindanao in early August.
"I think the government is doing a lot. Both the national and local governments are doing a lot to help the civilian victims of conflict but it's clear that their resources are very overstretched," MacDonald told reporters after announcing the latest EU humanitarian assistance.
He mentioned reading in newspapers "that the stock of food are all gone, the scale of the number of people affected by conflict are so large that its important for the international community to help."
"My impression from press reports is that the real sufferers are the civilians. Houses have been destroyed and properties have been destroyed and it has been photographed by newspapers which are quite telling," MacDonald said.
The MILF were angry that a proposal to provide Muslims their own "Bangsamoro homeland" became a mere paper chase when a purported memorandum on the matter failed to be signed in Kuala Lumpur and was scuttled at the last minute by a Philippine court order.
MacDonald also described his own emotions, as it is perhaps the EU's, on what he has read and seen from media reports:
"Imagine you have been forced to runaway from your village and take shelter in a school and it happens five, seven ten years. I would feel pretty damaged and frightened and I think the agencies that deal with indigenous peoples and refugees have a long experience of identifying the psycho-social experience from that repeated stress and repeated exposure to conflict. Its important to address them."
EU total development assistance to Mindanao since 1989 amounted to Euro520 million already. But even if the conflict has stretched into the new millennium, the EU does not believe its help is in vain, he stressed.
"Now if you ask if efforts are in vain, certainly not. We have to recognize that one project is only a drop in the bucket compared to the overall development of Mindanao. That's clear that peace is necessary for Mindanao to be able to develop and achieve its full potential," he explained.
Of the Euros520 million euros, about Euro115-m has gone to actual development projects in Mindanao, or just 20 percent.
"But if you do the same calculation for humanitarian assistance and investments lending from the European Investment Bank (EIB), the picture's quite different," he explained.
"Our development assistance to Mindanao is 20 percent of the total assistance for the Philippines, the humanitarian assistance is 40 percent and EIB lending for projects to Mindanao is ten percent. You can see the pattern there. The development assistance is average compared to the overall assistance to the Philippines but humanitarian assistance is heavily secured towards Mindanao and we are not lending very much for lending projects in Mindanao."
He clarified EU has not suspended any of its projects in Mindanao but it is "monitoring very carefully" the impact of the ongoing clashes on its projects, particularly those located in such actual conflict areas as Midsayap and Aleosan municipalities in North Cotabato.
"We are hopeful that our projects will not be seriously affected by the conflict," he continued.
The EU has what is known as the Mindanao Trust Fund and MacDonald said he visited a project site in Sarangani Province (near North Cotabato) two weeks ago and met up with officials of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) "to ensure that the achievements of the project will be safeguarded."
EU has Davao-based European staff members working on its health projects in Mindanao in tandem with non-governmental organization and the BDA.
Though they do not have to go to the conflict areas, they "have been very prudent not to travel," MacDonald noted, expressing that they will not be pulled out except as an emergency measure. "What is necessary is to exercise common sense and prudence."
As to suggestions from Malacanang to have at least 12 individual MILF combat commanders, including Commanders Bravo, Kato and Panglian, declared as terrorists by the United Nations, MacDonald responded:
"As far as I'm aware there has not been any consideration given on the EU side to expand our list of terrorists and institutions of terrorism." The EU has listed the Muslim Abu Sayyaf Group and the New People's Army as international terrorists.
Without giving a categorical response to a question of whether or not the EU supports military action in Mindanao, MacDonald simply referred to the September 15 EU statement.
In that statements, EU members declared they "are deeply concerned by the violence in Mindanao... we underline that the conflict can be resolved through dialogue and both parties should go back to the negotiating table and exercise restraint."
MacDonald also referred to EU's urging of "an early return to negotiations" in relations to the new government strategy of employing the UN-sanctioned peace talks strategy of DDR (Disarming, Demobilization and Rehabilitation).
It appears that if asked to assist in the peace talks, which Malacanang momentarily halted because of MILF intransigence, the EU would help if asked. MacDonald said, "There isn't any suggestion from the (Philippine) government and the MILF to allow outside party such as EU to give assistance to the peace talks."
There are suggestions that even Malaysia, which had facilitated the talks for more than a decade, should be taken off mediation.
Several weeks back, British Ambassador to Manila, Peter Beckingham, had offered to help in the peace talks on the aspect of disarmament. This was an offshoot of a meeting last December between then Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Beckingham said.
But Malacanang apparently has no solid response yet to announce on the offer.
MacDonald said EU would need an assessment or status report on Mindanao - such as figures on damages and other human and property casualties, how many years would it take for Mindanao to recover from this crisis. (PIA-MMIO) [top]