EU, Australia, UN launch twin projects to normalize lives of ex-combatants in Mindanao

The European Union (EU), along with the Australian government and the United Nations launched two projects to normalize the lives of former combatants in Mindanao and their families by assisting them to obtain legal identities and providing access to sustainable livelihood.

In a ceremony on Wednesday, June 15, EU Ambassador Luc Véron, together with Australian Ambassador Steven Robinson, and UN Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez flew to Mindanao for the launching of Access to Legal Identity and Social Services for Decommissioned Combatants (ALIAS-DC) project.

After decades of conflict, obtaining a legal identity through birth certificates is a first step for former combatants in their re-engagement into civilian life. Access to the peace dividends also involves re-creating viable livelihoods in previously armed camps. To achieve these goals of normalization requires strong partnerships between all stakeholders.

Also launched was the Programme on Assistance for Camp Transformation through Inclusion, Violence Prevention and Economic Empowerment (PROACTIVE) that seeks to promote economic income and sustainable livelihoods, community resilience and security.

Véron said the two projects were designed in partnership with the Office of Presidential Adviser of Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

Both ALIAS-DC and PROACTIVE will support the normalization of Camp Bilal (Lanao provinces), Camp Bushra (Lanao del Sur), Camp Abubakar (Maguindanao), Camp Rajamuda (North Cotabato/Maguindanao), Camp Badre (Maguindanao), and Camp Omar (Maguindanao).

The EU, he said, is in Mindanao to support the work of the Bangsamoro Transitional Government and the OPAPRU to further consolidate the peace process. Since 2020, the European block has invested over 105 million euro (about Php9 billion) in projects covering both development and capacity building for the transition.

“We are happy to be partnering with Australia and the UN on normalisation, since enhancing the normalisation track -allowing for all the people engaged in the conflict to lead peaceful and productive lives without leaving anyone behind–is crucial to build lasting peace”, said Véron.

As another long-time supporter of the peace process and normalization in Mindanao, Australian Ambassador Robinson said, “I’m glad that we are helping provide such foundational assistance to former combatants. Identity documents are something that many of us take for granted, but if you lack these you can find yourself locked out of education, health, work, and wider opportunities to participate in society. I hope these documents will help kick-start the process to transform these camps into peaceful communities.”

Robinson believes that the support of the global community is essential to the peace process in Mindanao, saying “no country can do this all on its own.”

As for Gonsalez, he said the UN is proud of being part of the collective investment jointly with the BTA, OPAPRU and development partners, Australia and the European Union.

The EU office in Manila explained that the ALIAS DC project will provide 31,000 former combatants, their families, the Bangsamoro Islamic Women’s Brigade (BIWAB), and members of communities surrounding MILF camps from marginalised sectors such as internally displaced persons and indigenous people, with birth registration.

With legal identity, it means that the former combatants and their families can hold their own certificates of live births, able to cross checkpoints freely and gain access to basic services and social protection.

The NGO IDEALS will be carrying this initiative forward to 2023 with Php 62.41 million funding from the EU and Php18.1 million funding from Australia.

In addition, PROACTIVE will work with commanders to create viable livelihoods in previously armed camps by supporting the formation of social enterprises, offering individual agricultural and non-agricultural livelihood trainings and assistance packages, and improving access to basic services and social infrastructure.

The project will also work on transforming conflict and creating a culture of peace by enhancing the capacities and participation of local stakeholders—including women, youth, and faith-based leaders in community development and peacebuilding. Implemented by the UNDP, the project is co-funded by the EU for Php 221 million.

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