How investing in community infrastructure is helping Mindanao respond to COVID-19

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6 women working on community project 6 women working on community project

In support of COVID-19 response and early recovery, the Mindanao Trust Fund-Reconstruction and Development Project Phase III has delivered significant support in some of the poorest areas of Mindanao in the Philippines in just 5 months of implementation.

Mindanao is the second-largest island in the Philippines, with a population of over 25 million people. However today, many Filipinos equate Mindanao with words like “war” or “hardship,” a reputation gained from the many years of conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), one of the biggest revolutionary groups in Mindanao, and the Philippine government. It’s a decades-old struggle that has left the newly established Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) lagging far behind the rest of this middle-income country in terms of poverty and human and economic development. According to the 2018 Philippine Statistics Authority, BARMM has the highest poverty incidence in the Philippines, at 63 percent.

With about 40,000 members, the MILF has long been fighting for its right to self-determination. Their major camps are spread across vast hinterlands along Lake Lanao and the Liguasan Marshland and marked by communities that have suffered years of extreme poverty, insecurity, and limited access to basic social services, education, and health facilities. Low agricultural productivity due to poor investments in infrastructure, as well as climate change, have left communities struggling to feed their families.

In 2005, to support the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and MILF, and at the request of GPH, the World Bank established the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF) to pool international development assistance for the recovery of conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. One of the projects supported by the Fund was the Reconstruction and Development Project (RDP), which supported more than 638,000 beneficiaries, of whom 52 percent were female.  614 community sub-projects were completed in 332 barangays in 114 municipalities, and more than 300 people’s organizations were formed.

In April 2018, a second phase of the Project (MTF-RDP 2) was initiated. This new phase was centered on six MILF camps and delivered strong results with more than 45,000 beneficiaries, through 31 completed sub-projects. The second phase project closed in December 2020. Considering the significant gains of the previous projects and the existing momentum in these communities, additional MTF funds were used to support a third and final phase, the Reconstruction and Development Project Phase III (RDP 3).

With the community’s progress suffering a huge setback in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, MTF-RDP 3 provided timely support.  Given a very short timeline of 5 months (due to the imminent closing of the Trust Fund), RDP 3 delivered impressive results in support of the continued development of the six MILF camps – focusing on COVID-19 prevention and recovery; and mainstreaming the use of inclusive participatory governance approaches in BARMM ministries.

To support socio-economic development, the project supported the construction of 13 smaller infrastructure projects including multi-purpose centers; agricultural facilities; agri-trading and production facilities; access roads and farmer's training centers. The selection of sub-projects was based on participatory community-driven development.

“Before we used to carry arms and we plan how to win over the enemy. Now we plan for how to transform the community and ensure that people have access to a sustainable livelihood,” says Ayobkhan Usman, Co-chair of Camp Bilal.

Members of People?s Organizations in Barangay Wago, Lanao del Sur participate in a Corn Production Training in Camp Bushra as part of skills training
Members of People’s Organizations in Barangay Wago, Lanao del Sur participate in a Corn Production Training in Camp Bushra as part of skills training provision of MTF-RDP/3.

According to Charima Ulangkaya, a skills training graduate and a women’s committee member from Palao sa Buto, Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, “The RDP3 productivity trainings helped the women in our community by increasing our economic opportunities and income.” After the training and with the sewing machines provided, some of the women now provide tailoring services in the community such as sewing “malongs” and face masks.

Considering the context of the pandemic, the project also included support for the construction of health facilities and health-related trainings. The RDP 3’s health sub-projects responded directly to the pandemic and assisted communities with improving health opportunities and supporting prevention of the spread of the virus.  Outputs included construction of 6 health stations with isolation facilities, birthing clinics, and community pharmacies, all designed in accordance with Ministry of Health standards. The regional Ministry of Health has committed to operate and maintain the health facilities.

The third phase of the project has also supported the training of community-based health volunteers; conducted COVID-19 related information, education, and communication campaigns (IEC); provided personal protective equipment and mechanisms for two-way communication between communities and health authorities for infectious disease control.

“Through the MTF-RDP 3 Project, relationships between tri-people, Moro, Indigenous Peoples, and Settlers, have improved. We realized that by doing things together, we can achieve more. It’s like the broom stick analogy, together we are stronger,” says Sandy Napikatua, People’s Organization president of Barangay Talibadok, Datu Hoffer Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

With the support of partners on the ground all this was accomplished in just 5 months of implementation.  Through the collaboration with BARMM ministries, the Reconstruction and Development Project has shown how results can be delivered through direct community engagement, promoting cost efficiency, enhancing sustainability, and championing inclusion.



Ditte Fallesen

Senior Social Development Specialist

Paul Adolfo

Paul Tudtud Adolfo

Maria Guadalupe

Maria 'Meg' Guadalupe

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