MILF asks Aquino gov’t to suspend oil exploration contracts

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has an ongoing ceasefire and peace negotiations with the Philippine government, asked the Aquino administration to freeze the planned exploitation by private foreign and local companies of natural resources such as oil and gas in Bangsamoro homeland. The MILF central committee decided to ask this of the Philippine government on July 29, saying the Philippine government’s unilateral decisions on such economic matters pre-empt talks on ancestral domain and disadvantages the Bangsamoro people.

Specifically, the MILF is asking Aquino to “temporarily suspend the operations of foreign companies set to conduct off-shore and on-shore oil and gas explorations in areas/territories covered by the Bangsamoro Ancestral Domain.”

In a strongly-worded statement, Ghazai Jaafar, vice-chair for political affairs of the MILF, explained that the natural resources of the Bangsamoro homeland belong to the Bangsamoro people, and that it constitutes “one of the four strands” in the Bangsamoro ancestral domain issue that is central to the ongoing negotiations between the Philippine government (GPH) and the MILF. He reasoned that while this issue is not yet resolved as they are still negotiating, “attempts to exploit and utilize these natural resources by foreign corporate entities in partnership with or with express permission of the GPH would result in depriving the Bangsamoro people of their collective proprietary right over said resources.”

“The right to self-determination is a right of all peoples,” says Piya Macliing Malayao, spokesperson of Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP.) “The use, ownership, and control of our ancestral territories and resources found therein are an expression of that right.”

KAMP has expressed support to MILF’s opposition to oil and gas exploration in the area they claim to be part of the ‘Bangsamoro Homeland,’ as the group has also been supporting the opposition of the country’s indigenous peoples whose ancestral lands are being grabbed for government-approved profit-induced mining, logging and energy projects.

Preempting a peace agreement

Jaafar said the Philippine government’s approval of the activities of foreign companies seeking to explore and exploit the natural resources in Bangsamoro’s ancestral homeland would preempt the intent of the MILF and the Philippine government to “frame a comprehensive compact formula” allowing the Bangsamoro people to exercise governance over the territorial homeland of what remained of their ancestral domain.

The Moro group’s protest over these foreign ventures within their ancestral domain are “not because it is against development,” Jaafar clarified, explaining that on the contrary, the MILF welcomes development but one that is “genuinely geared towards uplifting the Bangsamoro people from their current impoverished state and sharing the benefits of such development to all” inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu.

The MILF protested the Philippine government initiative also because they said such action is “contrary to and in violation of the letter and spirit of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of June 2001.” Besides, they said, such economic development should only come after a political settlement of “the Bangsamoro Question” has been concluded to the satisfaction of the two parties in the conflict.

To date, the Philippine government under President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino has had four scheduled peace negotiations with the MILF. Another meeting is scheduled this August, when the government is expected to finally submit its proposal for settlement; the MILF has submitted theirs last February. The two parties’ ceasefire still holds, as the government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said as of July 26.

Protesting other GPH incursions in Bangsamoro land

The MILF has previously urged the Philippine government to forego with the privatization or sale of the Agus and Pulangi Hyrdro Power Complex. Their peace panel had in fact already notified the Philippine government about the MILF opposition to the planned sale in their latest round of exploratory talks last June 27-28.

Similar to the problem posed by allowing oil and gas exploration, Jaafar said if this privatization pushes through, it would “complicate the ongoing peace negotiation on the Ancestral Domain issue,” as well as preempt talks on issues of patrimony and land ownership.

Do not allow yourselves “to be accomplices in further depriving the Bangsamoro people of their ancestral domain,” the MILF appealed to all private companies. He said they have been “minoritized” in their own homeland due to massive landgrabbing and resettlement programs. Now, he lamented that the little resources that remained to them are still being “greedily coveted” by some people from the private sector and their partners in Philippine government.

Areas believed to be rich in oil and gas in Cotabato and the Sulu Sea are among the 15 being offered by the Philippine government for exploration and development bidding, as announced by the Department of Energy recently. The energy department reportedly expects at least $7.5 billion on investments in the oil and gas sector alone.

Malacañang outrightly rejected the MILF’s demand. “We will suspend nothing. The Department of Energy has gone through the energy contracting round and based on the interest that has been shown by the investors, we have no plans to suspend,” Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ramon “Ricky” A. Carandang said. ()

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