DAVAO City — Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono met here with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and later with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on Sunday, reiterating Japan’s pledge to help the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm), the new political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).
During his bilateral meeting with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Kono said Japan has been supportive of the peace efforts in Mindanao for more than a decade and that they are “willing and ready to expand the support on the advancement of the peace process.”
He said Japan welcomes the positive outcome of the plebiscite for the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on January 21 for the voters in the five-province, two-city Armm as well as the cities of Cotabato and Isabela; and on Feb. 6 for the proposed inclusion into the Barmm of six Lanao del Norte towns and 67 barangays in Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pikit, Pigkawayan and Tulunan in North Cotabato.
He also conveyed their sympathy to the victims of the Jan. 27 bombing at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu . The two explosions killed 23 persons and injured a hundred others.
He said they strongly condemn any act of terror.
Dominguez thanked the Japanese government for its “generous and continuous support to the Philippine Government especially in providing us positive impact to our major infrastructure projects and sectoral cooperation.”
He said Japan has remained as the Philippines’ top official development assistance (ODA) funder and recognized the steadfast “commitment of the Government of Japan in supporting our country’s development agenda especially in helping us jump-start the aggressive Build, Build, Build infrastructure modernization program so crucial to our nation’s sustained economic development.”
Nine loan agreements have been signed between the Philippines and Japan since Rodrigo Duterte became President in June 2016. Seven high-level meetings had been convened since 2017 to strengthen the Philippines-Japan Joint Statement on Bilateral Cooperation, he said.
He said they are scheduled to hold the 7th High Level meeting in Osaka, Japan later this month.
“With frequent coordination meetings, our accomplishments in the last two years are unprecedented,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez also bragged about the “Fast and Sure” approach that the Duterte administration has adotped with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, which expedites the processing of loan approvals for majority of the infrastructure projects with Japan at an average of three to four months.
“This demonstrates our shared commitment to work closely to ensure that the Filipino people get to benefit from these projects at reasonable costs and at the soonest possible time,” he said.
Abe visited Davao City in January last year and even had breakfast with his wife in Duterte’s residence.
Murad said he was elated having met with the Japanese Foreign Minister. He said they discussed how Japan can help the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the transition body that would govern the Bangsamoro government in the three-year transition period.
The BTA will be headed by a Chief Minister. Murad is the MILF’s nominee to the post of Chief Minister.
“We wish that Japan will continue and even strengthen support especially on the development program of the area and they committed to me getting along with us throughout the BTA in order to achieve our programs,” Murad said.
The two met behind closed doors after the photo opportunity for media, at the Lawin Room of the hotel. (Antonio Colina IV of Mindanews)