The Mindanao Trust Fund in the Philippines: still hopeful after 10 years

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Since 2005, the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF) has worked to build the capacity of the Bangsamoro Development Agency through the “learning-by-doing” approach. Over half a million people in 214 villages across 75 municipalities have benefited from the multi-donor trust fund.

I started working with the World Bank in 2005. I worked first with the ARMM Social Fund Project (ASFP), then with the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF) about a year later. The ASFP, already at its mid-term, was in support of the 1996 peace agreement and thus the context was post-conflict. The MTF was in support of an on-going peace process and operated in the context of confidence-building.

Working first in the ASFP was a very useful preparation for my MTF work. The two projects were situated in the same geographic and socio-cultural context and had similar operational challenges (e.g., low capacity of staff, governance issues, etc.).

Knowing the challenges in the ASFP, a project with experienced staff, I had difficulty imagining how project implementation would be like under MTF especially after I was told that the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA)—the development arm of a revolutionary group (Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF) and the key implementing agency for the MTF—didn’t have any development experience except for a few medical-dental missions.

Drafting status reports became a challenging task given the “slow movements” in project performance compared to what the donors were expecting. High personnel and operational costs were recurring issues as some development partners tended to compare the project’s performance with those of other projects’ despite the emphasis that the MTF was more a capacity-building and confidence-building project than a typical development project.

Building the capacity of BDA has been very challenging. We started from scratch, something BDA officials would mention in many of their public presentations or speeches. Over the years, management systems such as procurement, financial management, safeguards, human resources, monitoring and evaluation, grievance redress, etc., were “slowly” installed, and then “slowly” implemented later. There were various reasons for the delays. One of those had to do with the nature of BDA. As the agency engaged in a political negotiation with the government, BDA was always conscious of the protocol involving consultation with and approval of its principal. Thus, no project system was installed and implemented without the approval of the principals in both the BDA and the MILF.

As part of the peace process ecosystem, we also had to deal with the key players such as the government, especially with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the government peace panel; the BDA and the MILF, the trust fund recipients (that have their own work dynamics with BDA), the MTF donors and our own internal management. Dealing with many actors at many layers across state and non-state organizations in the context of a highly political and sensitive peace process has been a very challenging journey. 

Speaking of sensitivity, I’m reminded of occasions when BDA officials and Bank team members would engage in heated exchanges due to differences in opinion or position. The good thing was that, like in the bigger context of the peace process, the partnership established mechanisms to diffuse tensions. This we worked out informally during implementation support missions, outside of the formal discussions.. The more we worked, the frequency of heated sessions lessened. BDA started to understand that the MTF Secretariat was accountable to its other project partners. And the MTF donors began to have a better appreciation of the challenging operational environment of the MTF with frequent updates from the Secretariat and occasional participation in field visits.

After a decade of engagement, the MTF is proud with these results: a functional BDA with increasing engagements with government and development partners, a Bangsamoro Development Plan crafted by BDA, and 374 community projects across 214 conflict-affected villages that is benefiting more than half a million people.

The 10 th anniversary of the MTF reminds me how long my journey in this conflict region has been. Just like the peace process, it’s been a bumpy ride. I am not complaining. Compared to the efforts for sustainable peace in Mindanao, I have just started. 


Roberto B. Tordecilla

Social Development Specialist

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