By THE DAILY TRIBUNE NEWS
Government officials have assured Japanese counterparts that MalacaÃ±ang is working fast to ensure the speedy implementation of Japan-funded projects in support of the Duterte administrationâ€™s campaign against illegal drugs and promotion of agribusiness investments in Mindanao. In a recent meeting with top officials of the Japan International Cooperation Agency in Tokyo, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the Philippine government expects to immediately begin construction of drug rehabilitation centers through a JICA grant amounting to 1.85 billion yen. Another JICA-funded initiative â€” the Harnessing Agribusiness Opportunities through Robust and Vibrant Entrepreneurship Supportive of Peaceful Transformation (HARVEST) Project in Mindanao â€” is now on the final stages of securing all the requirements necessary to formalize a memorandum of agreement between the Department of Finance and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank), which will implement this project. â€œWe are grateful that Japan is also supporting our campaign against illegal drugs by providing a JICA grant to the Department of Health for the treatment and rehabilitation of illegal drug users,â€ Dominguez said in the meeting with JICA officials. The JICA side was led by its president Shinichi Kitaoka and senior vice president Shinya Ejima. â€œWe hope to immediately implement the 1.850 billion yen grant to construct drug rehabilitation centers,â€ Dominguez added. Dominguez said the grant, equivalent to $16 million, â€œis the first of its kind from Japan to the Philippines that is of a budgetary support in nature.â€ The 1.85 billion yen grant forms part of the 3.8 billion yen ($33 million) JICA grant to support the Duterte administrationâ€™s programs to win the war against illegal drugs, improve public security and its counterterrorism efforts, and forge lasting peace and development in Mindanao. On the Mindanao-HARVEST Project, Dominguez told JICA that â€œwe are now finalizing the LBP-DoF memorandum of agreement and we expect to secure all requirements for the MoA to take effect by middle of next month.â€ Dominguez, on behalf of the government, thanked Japan for its financial assistance to these programs. Meanwhile, the LandBank and the Japanese government signed a loan agreement worth almost 5 billion yen to fund the five-year HARVEST project in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and other conflict-affected areas in the southern Philippines during the official visit of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Philippines last January. The 4.93 billion yen loan deal for the HARVEST project was signed by LandBank president and CEO Alex Buenaventura and JICA chief representative to the Philippines Susumu Ito. This JICA loan will mature in 25 years, inclusive of a seven-year grace period with an interest rate of 1.4 percent. On top of the proposed loan, JICA intends to provide a technical grant of about $6 million (about P290 million) to support the capacity building of eligible beneficiaries of HARVEST and LandBankâ€™s management of the project. HARVEST, which will be implemented by the Land- Bank from 2017 to 2022, aims to open a lending window for agribusiness ventures and other related investments in ARMM and other conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. Loans funded under the HARVEST project will be made available to large agribusiness enterprises; farmersâ€™ organizations or cooperatives; micro, small and medium enterprises; and â€œcorporativesâ€ or corporation- managed farms supported by the LandBank in ARMM and other conflict-affected areas. Projects that are sourcing products or goods from the ARMM and other covered areas as part of a value chain are also qualified to borrow under the HARVEST program.