Some of you may wonder what the Philippine ambassador to Germany is doing in this “summit.” Let me give you three good reasons:
Firstly, when I was secretary of foreign affairs from 2003-2004, I encouraged Filipino diplomats to be relevant to national development through active economic diplomacy. One of the areas of bilateral and economic cooperation, especially with so-called “donor countries” is to participate in the discussions on development cooperation which is a tool of foreign policy.
Two years ago, as ambassador to Germany, I participated in the discussions which chose the Caraga region to be the focus for German development program aimed at poverty reduction and peace-building.
You may ask, “Why Caraga?” As many of you may be aware, the region has been identified with a high incidence of poverty or 53% of the population are poor. Poverty in the German study on the region refers not only to income but also in terms of services and resources and related dimensions measured according to human development indices. Moreover, the region is seen to be facing multifaceted conflict with a need for crises-prevention as well as conflict management, transformation and eventual resolution.
In March this year, both governments agreed to allocate up to 7 million Euros or about P434 million to fund the project known as “COSERAM” meaning “Conflict Sensitive Resource and Asset Management in the Caraga Region”.
The objective of the project is to enable the majority of the local people to benefit economically from the rich natural resources of the region in a responsible, peaceful, and also in a just manner. This project agenda is therefore linked closely and directly to the objectives of this conference which seeks to “adopt best mining practices through strategic partnerships for sustainable and self-reliant mining communities.
The core components of the COSERAM program include the following:
1. Efficient management of natural resources, namely, land, forest, aquatic and mineral resources since the region has historically been dependent on natural resource extraction.
I am reminded of the famous 14th century Agusan Gold Image which confirms that gold mining has a long tradition in this region. Moreover, the current exhibition on pre-Spanish gold culture of Surigao currently exhibited at the Ayala Museum attests to the rich natural resources as well as the artistry of the people of this region.
2. Building capacities of local governments, particularly in managing assets and providing services in an efficient and effective way.
3. Addressing conflicts peacefully and inclusively.
Let me underscore however that, like all bilateral cooperation projects, the COSERAM supports the development priorities of the Philippine government as identified in the medium-term plan.
Moreover, in implementing the projects, it was agreed that both sides cooperate closely to ensure transparency, accountability and probity in the use of public resources and above all, to eliminate any opportunity for corrupt practices to exist.
Germany is the third largest development cooperation partner of the Philippines. I therefore ask the people of Caraga and all those who will be involved in the various projects to be funded by both governments to ensure that the dignity and credibility of the Philippines as a recipient of German public funds be upheld at all times.
I am here therefore to encourage you to contribute your share in fulfilling the efforts of a foreign country to help us improve the lives of our countrymen in Mindanao, especially Caraga whose needs have been carefully identified and assessed. If we succeed in this particular project, it may encourage more countries to increase its assistance to a deserving region. Let us make the Caraga region an example of a region able to absorb the goodwill, the trust and the financial support that will go with the project.
Secondly, the reason I readily accepted to participate in this conference is to be able to convey to you the President’s policy, similar to that taken by Nelson Mandela of South Africa, that in order to address poverty, it is imperative to create wealth from the country’s resources. The development of South Africa’s resources has contributed immensely to that country’s development.
Today, South Africa prides itself as Africa’s best performing economy. It has even gained world recognition to host the next Football World Cup championship games. Chile is another example of a country that has utilized its resources for the greater good of many of its people. Copper prices which reached historical peaks enabled Chile to pay off its debts.
I hope that this great opportunity may offer Caraga the break it needs.
Thirdly, based on my seven-year experience as ambassador to Australia and learning about the management of the Australian mining industry, the President appointed me as her special envoy to assist the government in revitalizing and promoting the mining industry. To implement her instructions, I initiated the creation of a Minerals Development Council to address the multi-faceted challenges which hindered the responsible development of the country’s rich mineral resources. The Council was conceived as a “one-stop-shop” to ensure efficient and transparent management of the mining industry and achieve the twin objectives of revitalization and promotion of the mining industry as embodied in Executive Order No. 469 creating the Minerals Development Council.
The Philippines’ current actions in the extractive industry are being closely monitored by such international “watch-dogs” as Transparency International and its daughter agency, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which have been initiated in Germany.
The assessment by these organizations of our current practices find their way as basis for our qualification to access such major development funds as the Millennium Challenge Account. While the Philippines has reached the threshold step, we still need to ensure that the industry is not infected by corrupt practices. The world is closely watching.
Let’s not, therefore, waste these golden opportunities being given to us here in Caraga.
I believe that with your natural endowments plus good governance, Caraga will have the recipe to make a leap from its current ranking as the second poorest region in the country to take its rightful place in our richly-endowed country.
These are excerpts from the remarks of H.E. Ambassador Delia Domingo Albert at the 5th Caraga Mining Summit in Surigao City held in April 2009.