USAID not giving up on Mindanao development
MANILA, Philippines—The US Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Philippines is conducting what its Filipino-American head calls an “experiment” aimed at helping the poorest parts of Mindanao take off with the rest of the country.
Gloria D. Steele, USAID mission director, revealed the agency’s “development game plan” for the southern Philippines in an interview with the Inquirer.
“I’m beginning to experiment on a combination of where the needs are greatest and where the impact (of US development aid) can be greatest… I’m trying to catch a balance between going to the poorest places and making a bigger transformative change and balancing our way forward in the next five years,” Steele said.
“That’s what I’m trying to work on with the Philippine government,” she said.
USAID implements over 30 development projects in practically all the Mindanao provinces, including in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The projects include, among others, the Growth with Equity in Mindanao; Livelihood Enhancement and Peace Program; Barangay Justice for Peace; Disaster Preparedness and Response; Mitigating Localized Conflict; Health Policy Development; Microenterprise Access to Banking Services; Transparent Accountable Governance, and the Coral Triangle Support Partnership.
USAID directs at least 60 percent of its total assistance to the Philippines—about $100 million a year—to Mindanao, “because that’s where the need is greatest,” said Steele.
“Eight of the 10 poorest provinces in the country are in Mindanao. That’s where the literacy rates are lowest, where people live 10 years shorter. Maternal and child mortality rates, all the demographics are worse in Mindanao than anywhere else in the country.”
Peace is “also an issue,” she said.
“That is another reason we are there—to see if we can mitigate that and see Mindanao take off with the rest of the country.”
Steele emphasized that “we’re not giving up.”
“What is the alternative, really? There’s not much up there. But we’re bonded. No matter what happens in between, there’s a bond between our two governments. I think it’s the interest in trying to help. That is my personal interest. That’s included in the consideration of what I’m doing and what I’m about to do,” she said.
‘Very good time’
Steele asserted she was “coming at a very good time.”
“It would have been very difficult personally to be working here if the platform of good government of President Aquino was not there. Transparency, improvement of governance, addressing corruption issues. So with that and my confidence that this administration is going to work very hard, I would like us to work in partnership with the Philippine government in promoting economic growth. Fighting poverty by making the economy grow—that’s where I would like to focus,” she said.
Steele strongly believes that maintaining the strong ties between Manila and Washington is “important between Filipinos and Americans.”
“And I think one of the manifestations of that is my assignment here. Having a Filipino-American come here and lead the effort to show the strength of the relationship and the confidence that we can work together and do something that hopefully will make a difference,” she said.
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