By Monsi A. Serrano
True to its commitment to strengthen the bilateral relationship between Philipines and Germany through multi-faceted priority development programs such as peacebuilding in Mindanao, climate change, energy transition and environmental protection, health, rules-based maritime order, humanitarian assistance after national disasters, and human right, women empowerment, among others.
The German Embassy in the Philippines, together with its implementing partner organizations kicked off its effort toward sustainable peace-building in Mindanao, revealed various projects that employ an inclusive approach in various sectors.
According to German Ambassador to the Philippines Anke Reiffenstuel, the German government aspires for the successful and inclusive peace process that will increase prosperity and social cohesion not only in the Philippines but also in this highly inter-connected region.
Advocating for peace and stability worldwide is a core priority for Germany. “We are aiming at expanding our partnerships with the Philippines, knowing that the Indo-Pacific region is of growing relevance in the political as well as economic sphere.”
Working with the Philippine government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Germany is currently providing more than two billion pesos in direct support. Germany’s projects include building institutions in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), reintegrating former combatants into society, and empowering key stakeholders such as women, the youth, and indigenous people.
Germany’s strong commitment to sustainable peace and growth in the region is translated to well-planned and properly funded projects on the ground. “We are partnering with around 70 different organizations implementing projects funded by Germany in Mindanao. In our view, the peace process can only be successful if all stakeholders are actively involved in it from early on,” added Ambassador Reiffenstuel.
Germany is also providing financial support for projects in key sectors such as land rights, disaster risk reduction, health, human rights, climate change, and livelihood – especially in agriculture.
Keeping the youth from violence
One such project is the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit’s (GIZ) Youth for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence in Mindanao (YOUCAP). In partnership with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (OPAPRU), the project aims to empower the youth and keep them from being involved in armed conflict.
YOUCAP actively works with Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officials in four local governments in Regions X and XIII to develop conflict-, gender-, and culturally-sensitive Local Youth Development Plans (LYDP). These plans were drafted during trainings involving 120 SK officials and youth representatives and cover about 100,000 young Filipinos – 21,500 of them classified as vulnerable.
GIZ Country Director Immanuel Gebhardt hopes that such projects will continue to give the youth hope and resilience and help keep them away from armed conflict. “The plan is to give them stability and as a result, when they have a stable life, they have hope for life,” he said. “Having a reliable income for their families helps alleviate feelings of frustration.”
Most people who get involved in armed conflict do so out of frustration and lack of support and perspectives. YOUCAP aims to show the youth in Mindanao that life away from conflict is a better, more stable option. “I think the world needs stability – it’s the only way people can enjoy prosperity.”
Gebhardt also stressed the importance of caring about what’s happening in conflict areas. “Right now, in most parts of Mindanao, we don’t need to be afraid of bombs – terrorists are not currently attacking us. Nevertheless, this destabilization leads to prosperity loss. So instead of economic growth, there’s an economic slowdown,” he said, adding that it’s the civilians who suffer greatly in any war.
The GIZ also implements a project line called DeveloPPP aided by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). DeveloPPP is implemented in several parts of the world, promoting partnerships with the private sector that can provide entrepreneurial opportunities to beneficiary communities.
In Mindanao, one of the major sectors assisted by DeveloPPP projects is agriculture, particularly coffee farming. While the Philippines has a long history of growing coffee, production is on the decline despite rising demand. Coffee farming takes place in rural areas with high poverty rates, hampering the improvement and modernization of farming methods and techniques.
GIZ has partnered with Nestlé Philippines to address the problem, particularly in Mindanao. Nestlé brings in their strong agri-services team and technical expertise while GIZ helps in training and capacity-building for farmers’ groups. “We help the farmers produce a better crop through education which – of course – is also in the interest of companies like Nestlé,” Gebhardt explained. “Harvesting better crops leads to a secure and continuous supply of coffee for companies and more revenue for the coffee farmers in Mindanao which helps them get out of poverty.”
So far, 1,565 coffee farmers in Bukidnon and Sultan Kudarat have been trained. From producing only 235 kilograms of coffee per hectare in 2018, they saw a 133.62% increase in their harvest by 2020 at 549 kilograms per hectare.
Giving women a platform
Empowering women is also at the forefront of Germany’s priorities in Mindanao. The German Foreign Federal Foreign Office is working with Relief International (RI) on a new project called Women Engaged in Responsive Solutions to Conflicts and Violence in Mindanao (We-RESOLVE).
The project, which started last September 15, aims to increase the participation of Bangsamoro women in their own communities while providing them with livelihood opportunities. “This will engage women leaders in conflict resolution, allowing them to be at the forefront of establishing Communities of Peace in selected areas in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur,” shared RI Program Manager Norma ‘Bing’ Constantino.
The project conducts workshops to equip local government units (LGUs), women-led civil society organisations (CSOs), community members, and other stakeholders with the skills to develop better gender and development plans. They are also implementing activities that promote peace that, in turn, support of the creation of Peace Communities.
We-RESOLVE will also improve women’s economic conditions in conflict-prone areas through livelihood support for 40 CSOs, creating links between peace and socio-economic empowerment of women through resilient enterprises. The project is now implemented in eight municipalities, involving 40 barangays in BARMM.
Sustainable progress and peace
“During my trips to Mindanao, I have always been impressed by the well-structured approach and concept of the projects our partner organizations are implementing,” Ambassador Reiffenstuel said, noting that sustainability in German-funded projects is something that they are proud of. After all, lasting peace in the region is the goal and while short-lived benefits are good, ensuring the welfare of BARMM’s residents for the long term is of utmost importance.
“Overall, sustainability can be achieved through close coordination with Philippine authorities, between German implementing partners as well as international donors,” the Ambassador explained. In coordination meetings, Germany and its partner organizations identify synergies between national development goals and projects, building upon them to ensure their lasting effects. She added that stakeholders are involved early on, particularly women in their peace-building role.
There’s much to be done but as a committed partner of the Philippines, the Ambassador assures that Germany will be there to support peace-building efforts every step of the way.
Read related stories: