MANILA - Japan formally awarded Thursday eight grant projects worth more than USD 850,000 for conflict-affected areas in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.
Japanese Ambassador Toshinao Urabe signed grants contracts amounting to USD 855,325 for the construction of 18 classrooms, an agricultural training center and four vocational training centers, mostly for youth and women.
The projects, to be spread in the provinces of Bukidnon, Maguindanao, Davao Oriental, Sarangani and North Cotabato, are part of the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development (J-BIRD), Japan's assistance package in support of peace and development in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.
"These facilities will certainly empower the local youth and give them a better chance for a better life...If the community is prosperous, people will be less belligerent and inclined to seek peaceful solution," Urabe said.
Joining the signing were Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process Undersecretary Luisito Montalbo and peace process International Monitoring Team head Maj. Gen. Abdul Samad Yaakub, among others.
The awarding of the new project grants came a week ahead of the formal signing of a final peace agreement between the Philippine government and the country's largest Muslim rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is concentrated in central and southwestern Mindanao.
Both Muslim and communist insurgencies have stunted economic development in natural resources-rich Mindanao during the last four to five decades.
Since it was launched in 2006, J-BIRD projects have a cumulative value of USD 6.8 million, including 222 classrooms, three medical clinics, 11 agricultural facilities, 26 units of agricultural equipment, 13 training centers and five water systems among others.
"By giving hope to the local communities, J-BIRD is contributing to the peace process," Urabe said.