Foreign-Funded Project Benefits Maguindanao

BULUAN, Maguindanao - Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu lauded the Spanish government and other foreign and national institutions partners for choosing the province as one of four areas in the country piloted for a youth welfare program, which he described as "very vital" in transforming his turf from the morass of underdevelopment.

"This (is a) remarkable support to our quest in reinventing Maguindanao to become globally competitive and attain the Millennium Development Goal for our youth," Mangudadatu said at formal ceremonies here Tuesday, referring to the Joint Program on Youth Employment and Migration (JP-YEM).

The JP-YEM is funded by the Spanish government, and implemented by a four-agency United Nations (UN) cluster on youth development in 15 or so countries, including the Philippines, officials said.

While generally aimed at capacitating the youth as future leaders, the program specifically seeks to protect the young people from adverse exploitations in employment and migration, they said.

In the country, the global venture is piloted in Masbate, Antique, Maguindanao, and Agusan del Sur where the foreign sponsors had found high rates of poverty incidence and school dropouts in the youth sector, JP-YEM coordinator Ruth Georget said.

Monina Macarongon, JP-YEM focal person in Maguindanao, said the program was launched in the province in 2009, but its implementation had been stunted by intervening events counting the infamous massacre of 58 people, including 32 media workers in Ampatuan town that year.

She said the program found full implantation when Mangudadatu, upon election in 2010, provided counterpart support leading to the setting up last July of a building in Buluan town that houses the One-Stop Research Center (OSRC) for the JP-YEM.

At Tuesday's ceremonies here, representatives of the foreign sponsors led by Georget officially turned over the JP-YEM management to the provincial government through the OSRC.

"I would like to congratulate the local government of Maguindanao, under the leadership of Governor Mangudadatu for the partnership and commitment to help thousands of disadvantaged youth," Georget said in her turnover speech.

Other witnessing officials acknowledged the relevant scholarship project of the governor, which has already provided scholarships to 1,950 students belonging to poor families from various towns in Maguindanao since early 2010.

Some of the scholars performed a cultural dance at the ceremony in tribute to the governor as well as the sponsors of the JP-YEM.

Police and military authorities had credited the provincial scholarship program for its being an antidote to the "pervasive recruitment" of young people as combatants in rebel groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberations Front, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, which all have several enclaves in Maguindanao.

In his speech at Tuesday's event here, Mangudadatu said that in his younger days, he had dreamt of youth empowerment to pull Maguindanao out of the shackle of poverty.

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