U.S. Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg visited Sulu last June 2 to assess the American government’s peace and development cooperation programs in the predominantly Muslim-populated province.
During the visit, the US envoy discussed with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines officials on how Washington and Manila can continue to work together to promote peace and security.
He also met with U.S. troops who are in Jolo temporarily to advise and assist the Philippine Armed Forces on counter-insurgency operations.
He also spent some time with a small group of alumni of U.S. government youth exchange programs to hear about their experiences, and discuss how they contribute to their communities through volunteerism.
The United States Government has a number of ongoing programs that benefit the people of Jolo. Since 2004, a total of 40 young people from Jolo have benefited from U.S. Department of State exchange programs such as the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program, a one-year high school exchange program and the Philippine Youth Leadership Program, a month-long training focused on conflict resolution and interfaith tolerance.
Peace and Stability
Sulu Island is also a primary focus area for a United States Department of Justice program to help build capacity within the PNP. The program has worked with the PNP to train approximately 1,300 PNP officers (a number of whom originate from Sulu) in areas such as community policing, media relations, basic police operations, and crime scene investigation.
It also helped establish a PNP Training Center in Jolo, so that PNP officers can receive training locally, instead of having to travel to Manila or elsewhere.
In addition, as part of the U.S. Government’s support for peace, stability, and good governance in the Philippines, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been working in Sulu Province, Jolo City and Maimbung Town to build local capacity for better delivery of education and health services, and has an ongoing project to support increased engagement between communities and local governments.
Meanwhile, Denise Rollins, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Acting Assistant Administrator (AA) for Asia, will visit the Philippines June 6-11, the US embassy in Manila announced Friday.
The visit aims to reinforce the U.S. Government’s commitment to the Partnership for Growth – a bilateral agreement with the Government of the Philippines (GPH) to achieve broad-based, inclusive and resilient growth in the country.
Accompanied by USAID/Philippines Mission Director Gloria D. Steele, AA Rollins will visit program sites and engage with local leaders and families that represent the wide scope of USAID’s work, from government officials, to business and community pioneers, to survivors of Typhoon Yolanda.
Ms. Rollins will first visit Cagayan de Oro City (CDO) to see ongoing developments under the U.S. Embassy Manila’s USAID Cities Development Initiative (CDI).
USAID selected CDO, along with the cities of Batangas and Iloilo, as a pilot to ignite secondary cities as engines of economic growth.
CDI, as part of the U.S.-Philippines Partnership for Growth, seeks to promote economic development outside Metro Manila to disperse economic opportunities and enable the country to accelerate and sustain higher, broad-based inclusive growth.
“We are working in partnership with local officials, the private sector and civil society to address concerns in education, health, energy, environment, economic growth and governance,” Director Steele said.
USAID Rebuild in Leyte
Next on the agenda, AA Rollins will visit Tacloban City, Leyte to formally launch USAID Rebuild, the U.S. Government’s rehabilitation and recovery program in Typhoon Yolanda-affected areas, particularly Leyte Province.
USAID Rebuild, which will be implemented in partnership with the Philippine government, focuses on restoring access to education, health services and livelihood activities, as well as providing technical assistance to the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery.
Rollins will also witness a USAID-supported twinning agreement for disaster risk reduction and management activities between the provinces of Albay and Leyte.
USAID aims to assist the province build back better through programs that will enable communities to become more resilient to future disasters.
Overall, U.S. Government support is estimated at approximately US$142.5 million to help the people
of the Philippines respond to, and recover from, the devastating effects of Typhoon Yolanda.
In Manila, AA Rollins will lead events highlighting USAID’s increasing focus on science, technology, innovation, and partnerships.
These activities are expected to help the country leapfrog stages of development and join the next generation of developing nations.
Events will include a workshop to improve the use of mobile technology for development solutions, and the awarding of USAID grants to select local civil society organizations to carry-out innovative projects in targeted development areas.
BAGANGA, Davao Oriental – All his life, Edilberto Bohol lived off the sea. On good days, he catches just enough fish to provide for his family.
However, he and his colleagues struggle just to meet their basic needs. Edilberto catches fish in the traditional hook and line method, which can bring meager returns.
As a result, he, and many of the province’s 15,000 fishers, live below the poverty threshold. “I have been fishing since I was small. The same is true with my father. I only finished high school, and this is the only livelihood I know,” said Bohol.
Seeking to improve the plight of these fishing communities, government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) conducted agriculture and aquaculture training and distributed seedlings, fish fry and other production inputs to help improve livelihoods in the area.
Unfortunately, Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) struck the province before these programs could reap their intended results.
Profitable and Sustainable
And the very resources that these fisher folk relied on for their survival were wiped out. More than 400 fishing boats were damaged and almost all fish-rearing structures in Boston, Baganga, and Cateel—municipalities severely affected by Pablo—were decimated. Projects that were underway were likewise wiped out.
During the immediate aftermath of Pablo, local governments tried to focus on underlying poverty issues of their areas and resume daily fishing activities. There was an obvious need, however, to introduce alternative livelihood opportunities that could be more profitable and sustainable.
The U.S. Embassy Manila’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, supports this idea.
Following a rapid assessment, USAID designed and implemented a multi-component disaster recovery program in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley provinces, under the oversight of the Mindanao Development Authority.
USAID/Philippines Mission Director Gloria D. Steele said, “The recovery program is part of the U.S. Government’s Php768 million disaster assistance to help Typhoon Pablo victims recover from the catastrophe.
This consisted of education, infrastructure, climate adaptation strengthening, agriculture and aquaculture livelihood assistance for the most severely affected municipalities.”
The multi-component approach included the introduction of high-value aquaculture to typhoon-affected fisher folk in both provinces.
The provincial Government of Davao Oriental was also provided with a high-value aquaculture industry development plan, which presents the results of a study on the viability of grouper (or lapu-lapu) production to help drive sustainable economic growth in the province.
The plan was formally handed over to Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon in August 2013. It notes that grouper is expected to give better returns to growers compared traditional aquaculture commodities, like milkfish and tilapia.
This target commodity presents the most potential for promotion and development in the area, considering its high market price, local and export market demand, availability of suitable mariculture sites and advances in technology.
The short to long-term strategies presented in the plan may also take off from the activities implemented by USAID through GEM.
USAID, in collaboration with the provincial government and BFAR, conducted a series of workshops on grouper farming for select growers associations in coastal towns. To help strengthen their climate resilience, the skills expansion effort included the construction of weather-resistant fish cages using locally sourced materials.
Fisherfolk in landlocked towns were trained on inland freshwater aquaculture.
They were also taught climate adaptation and mitigation techniques to address flooding and unstable oxygen levels that occur in fishponds when water temperature rises.
Majority of these growers received hatchery-bred grouper juveniles, milkfish fingerlings, formulated feeds and other start up materials from USAID.
“The project reached about 2,000 fisherfolk. The technologies we introduced are cost-effective, highly replicable and will also avert potential losses due to adverse weather conditions,” said Lauro Tito Ilagan, USAID-GEM Aquaculture Team Leader.
“Lapu-lapu farming can be very profitable and sustainable. At two production cycles per year, a four-compartment fish cage will allow a net income of as much as Php200,000,” Ilagan explained.
Edilberto and members of the Kinablangan Fisherfolk Association, which he chairs, are about to enjoy their first harvest of grouper.
“We can sell these at about Php500 a kilo,” he said, thanking USAID for helping his hometown. “We will reinvest part of our income to buy fingerlings and other inputs so that we can continue to improve our lives.”
Other growers groups that participated in the project, such as the Mabini Fisherfolk Association, are also on their way to recovery.
Prior to their foray into grouper production, the members were engaged in traditional cage culture of low-value milkfish which they sold for about Php100 per kilo in local wet markets. On their first cycle of production, they stand to earn approximately Php260,000.
“The seeds of recovery that we planted a year ago through a strong partnership between the Philippine and United States governments are beginning to bear fruit.
The U.S. Government will continue to work with our Philippine Government partners to help Typhoon Pablo-affected provinces recover and achieve lasting peace and greater prosperity for all of its residents,” Director Steele said.