This makes it possible for residents of these remote communities, which lie along the fringes of the Liguasan Marsh, to now travel safely and efficiently to the main highway running from Makilala in North Cotabato to Tacurong City in Central Mindanao.
The upgraded road, consisting of all-weather gravel sections and concrete sections, is expected to significantly improve residents' access to markets, business centers, schools, hospitals and government services.
Travel time from SK Pendatun, the most remote of the four municipalities, has been reduced from one hour to approximately 20 minutes.
The completed infrastructure project was turned over on May 16 to the Maguindanao provincial government by Deputy Chief of Mission Leslie Bassett of the U.S. embassy in Manila, together with Reed Aeschliman of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
At the ceremony, Bassett praised the government leaders for their commitment to the project, and for helping to foster peace and development in this conflict-affected area of Mindanao.
Philippine government officials present included Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, Chair of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), Regional Governor Mujib Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Representative Simeon Datumanong (Maguindanao 2nd District) and Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu.
The US government-funded project was implemented by USAID's Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, in partnership with the provincial government.
The latter provided a counterpart contribution of about 26 percent of the total project cost, with support from the Maguindanao 2nd Congressional District Office.
The ceremonial turn-over took place alongside the Maguindanao Infrastructure Development Forum being held in Buluan, which focused on intensive efforts by the provincial government to implement vital infrastructure projects in the province.
The visiting officials later traveled to Tumbao, in the municipality of Mangudadatu, where the U.S. government turned over a boat landing on Lake Buluan completed in partnership with the municipality. The landing facility will help ensure regular water transport services for the residents.
To date, the US government, in partnership with the local governments, has built more than 1,450 infrastructure projects in Mindanao's conflict-affected areas through USAID's GEM Program which is implemented under the oversight of MinDA. These include larger-scale Regional Impact Projects, like the Buluan provincial road, designed to benefit people in multiple barangays or municipalities.
Bassett also met with a select group of young leaders who are alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs. Participants included those who studied in the United States under State Department scholarships, and alumni of USAID's Congressional Internship Program for Young Mindanao Leaders, which gave youths from Mindanao the opportunity to intern in the National Congress of the Philippines.