Australia vows more aid for South

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DAVAO CITY—More aid will pour into Mindanao as soon as the details of the recently signed peace agreement between the government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are worked out, an Australian aid executive said.

“As the annexes of the agreement become clearer, so will the opportunities for us,” Geoff King, counselor in the Philippines for Australian Aid for International Development (AusAid), said.

The three annexes of the framework agreement include the guidelines on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and the decommissioning of the rebel armed forces. The peace agreement, which will lead to an autonomous Bangsamoro homeland, will be subjected to a referendum in 2016.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday on the sidelines of the awarding of some P20-million in grants to 11 Philippine-Australian Community Assistance Program (Pacap) projects in Mindanao and the Visayas here, King said donor countries like Australia wanted to “see what the agreement really was all about” so they would know what areas they could help in.

“Until we really know what the details are, we will have to wait,” he said.

But King said he had already envisioned the new agreement to usher in “more opportunities” for aid, for example, in education.

He said Australia was “thrilled to see the signing of the framework, (which was) a watershed moment for the Philippines.”

This early, AusAid was looking forward to building more schools and training more teachers in areas previously affected by conflict in Mindanao, he said.

Currently, AusAid focuses on boosting education in Mindanao and is considered the country’s largest bilateral grant donor with some P5.5 billion in contributions for 2012 and 2013.

Maribel Buenaobra, theme leader of Pacap, a program managed by the Asia Foundation, said three of their programs—which AusAid funded—were geared towards education.

“We are trying to integrate the schools program, working to build schools, train teachers and provide structures for schools. We are already working in the area,” King said.

The peace agreement should end a 36-year rebellion in the southern Philippines by the MILF, currently the biggest Muslim secessionist group.

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