Japan will lend the Philippines up to $202 million to build roads and bridges in conflict areas of Mindanao in the country's south.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono exchanged promissory notes with his Philippine counterpart Teodoro Locsin Jr. in Davao City on Sunday.
"Through this, Japan will contribute to developing a road network that supports the foundation of people's lives in Mindanao by improving access to schools and hospitals and by revitalizing economic activities in the region," said Kono.
The loan by the Japan International Cooperation Agency will contribute to a project costing 24 billion pesos ($460 million) to connect the southern region via 150 kilometers of roads and 40 bridges. Construction is scheduled to begin this year and end in 2025.
Kono was in Davao City, the Philippine president's hometown, to open Japan's consulate general there. China opened its consulate in the city last year. The Muslim independence movement in Mindanao dates back to the 1970s. The Moro National Liberation Front, then the biggest rebel group, agreed with the government in 1989 to form the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, known as ARMM.
Decades later, the region remains in conflict, with intense political rivalries and rebel splinter groups vying for control.
After nearly two decades of negotiations between the government and rebel groups, President Rodrigo Duterte signed in July last year the Bangsamoro Organic Law for creation of a new autonomous entity to replace the ARMM.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao would allow for greater autonomy for its people, giving them more control over their natural resources and a bigger share in state resources.
Kono said Japan welcomes ratification of the law, noting that Tokyo has been a consistent supporter of the peace process in Mindanao for more than 10 years.
"Japan plans to assist job creation and livelihood improvement for the locals, including combatants," he said.