MANILA, AUGUST 25, 2011 (STAR) A peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could be the Philippines' way out of poverty, a congressman said today citing a US intelligence assessment.

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas, chairman of the House committee on good government and public accountability, said that the success of the ongoing peace talks between the government and the MILF plays a vital role in solving poverty.


Treñas said that based on the US intelligence assessment, "the Philippines may have untapped minerals worth between US$840 billion to US$1 trillion" in Mindanao.

The congressman said that the US intelligence assessment was included in the 2006 "unclassified/for official use only" cable from the US embassy in Manila released online by Singapore-based journalist Andrew Macgregor Marshall.

He said that the assessment can only become a reality of peace and security in Mindanao is secured through the success of the government-initiated peace talks with the MILF.

Treñas said that the intelligence assessment "basically assures that peace in Mindanao could catapult the entire nation from being a third world nation into a major economic power in Asia."

"We've always known that Mindanao is fertile and rich in natural and mineral resources but I didn't realize that Mindanao's mineral wealth can single-handedly reverse our present economic situation. With this report, I'm convinced more than ever that our key to finally become a first world nation is to bring peace and development to Mindanao," he said.

The lawmaker said that the US intelligence assessment should raise the urgency for the forging of peace talks between the government and the MILF. He urged opposition congressmen to support the Aquino administration's bid to secure the peace deal.

President Benigno Aquino III had recently met with MILF leader Al Haj Murad in Tokyo. Both agreed to speed up the talks and work for the forging of a peace pact before Aquino's term expires in 2016.

Treñas said the US report should now convince skeptics that President Aquino is on the right direction in his decision to do anything possible that is within the bounds of law to guarantee the success of the peace talks between the government and the MILF.

He also dismissed claims that a peace deal between the government and the MILF is a "sell out" of the nation's patrimony because on the contrary, the full integration of the MILF and their decision to give up their quest of an independent state is a big leap forward in promoting national patrimony.

"We should stop talking about national patrimony in a manner that treats the MILF as non-Filipinos. The fact that they have given up secessionism should be considered as something that strengthens our nation and not something that weakens it," Treñas said.

Talks between the government and the MILF bogged down Tuesday after the MILF panel led by Mohagher Iqbal rejected the proposals presented by the government peace panel enumerating economic and political solutions that can end the armed conflict in Mindanao. -- Angelo L. Gutierrez


MANILA, Philippines (TRIBUNE / Aug. 22, 2011) - Leaked diplomatic documents in Wikileaks showed the United States has a special interest in the natural resources in Mindanao and the ending of the armed conflict in the region, giving credence to a suspicion that the United States is prodding the Aquino administration’s peace efforts with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), including brokering the recent secret meeting between MILF spokesman Al Haj Murad and President Aquino.

Wikileaks obtained documents dated February 2006, or prior to the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) on Aug. 5, 2008 showing extensive reference to the untapped rich mineral resources of Mindanao and tensions in the region which hinder the exploitation of these resources.

The leaked cable from the US embassy in Manila made particular reference to the so-called Liguasan Marsh in the Cotabato Basin spanning 288,000 hectares and is among areas controlled by the MILF.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has already identified natural gas and oil deposits in three areas of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago: the Cotabato Basin, the Davao-Agusan Basin; and an area straddling Tawi-Tawi and Sulu. The Cotabato Basin, notably, includes the 288,000 hectare Liguasan Marsh, straddling the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudurat, according to the cable.


It stated that this “swamp/marsh — which is an officially declared bird sanctuary and game refuge — remains an important MILF stronghold, home to an estimated 280,000 Muslims, and an area where members of the terrorist Jemaah Islamiya (JI) have historically conducted training and sought refuge.”

It detailed the several roadblocks the government faces in exploiting Liguasan Marsh particularly what it called as “competing land ownership claims.”

The cable recounted the clan of former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zacaria Candao staking a claim to 40 percent of the Liguasan Marsh, while other clans, including the Mangudadatus and Pendatuns, have claimed at least 50 per cent ownership.

It also stated that MILF vice-chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jafaar as referring to the Liguasan Marsh as a “legacy from our forefathers” adding that the Bangsamoro people would not part with their lands in the marsh.

“The MILF has created the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) to lead, manage, and determine developmental efforts, including in the Liguasan Marsh,” it added.

It said separately, the Maguindanao tribe, which is the predominant indigenous and largely Muslim ethnic group living in and around the Liguasan Marsh, considers the marsh as part of its own ancestral domain.

The cable added that the Maguindanao-based clan of the deceased Salipada Pendatun, the first Muslim to serve as a general in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), has also claimed ownership over the entire Liguasan Marsh by virtue of an original land title.

“Though Pendatun’s daughter and legal heir, Bai Monera Pendatun, has said the Pendatun clan is open to sharing the marsh with others, she has opposed any amendment to the law that would allow titling of lands within the marsh,” it added.

It stated that the head of the Alamada clan, Rebecca Dilagalan Alamada Buan, has separately claimed 14,000 hectares in North Cotabato Province, near the borders of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. “Meanwhile, the Ampatuan clan, led by Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan and ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, politically dominate the region, also including most of the mayors of the 11 municipalities of Maguindanao, eight municipalities of North Cotabato, and one municipality of Sultan Kudurat that encompass the Liguasan Marsh,” it added.

The intercepted cable was transmitted long before the Maguindanao massacre in 2009 where 51 people were slain over an election-related dispute and in which the Ampatuan clan is suspected of having carried out.

The cable said the Philippines National Oil Company (PNOC) began exploring for oil and natural gas in the Liguasan Marsh area in 1994 under Geophysical Survey and Exploration Contract (GSEC) 73, which covered all of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudurat, Sarangani, Davao, and Bukidnon provinces of Mindanao.

It added that Malaysia’s national oil company, Petronas, partnered with the PNOC for the exploration of the marshland.

“By the late 1990’s, they had located natural gas and/or oil in five sites, including Datu Piang (Dulawan) and Sultan Sa Barongis in Maguindanao and Lambayong in Sultan Kudurat.

According to the PNOC, the estimated natural gas deposits in Sultan Sa Barongis alone would be enough to fuel a 60-megawatt (MW) combined cycle power plant for 20 years.

“The PNOC had hoped to use this gas to support the power requirements of Mindanao as well as for industrial applications. However, the PNOC and Petronas suspended operations in the Liguasan Marsh area due to threats from the MILF and extortion by local mayors and political warlords,” it added.

It cited incomplete data and unconfirmed reports that the Philippines may have untapped mineral wealth worth between $840 billion and $1 trillion.

It said the US Geological Survey hopes soon to conduct a more comprehensive survey of minerals, with funding from the Philippine government.

A special advisor on the GRP-MILF Peace Process in the Office of the President recently described Mindanao in particular as “a treasure trove” of mineral resources, including gold, copper, nickel, manganese, chromite, silver, lead, zinc, and iron ore, it added.

It cited data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau that up to 70 per cent of the Philippines’ mineral resources may be in Mindanao.

“Interest has grown significantly since a December 2004 decision by the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Mining Act. Companies that are up to 100 per cent foreign owned may now

pursue investments in large-scale exploration and development of minerals, oil, and gas. As of early 2006, there were 23 mining projects nationwide,” it added.

Multinational firms are already eyeing areas in Mindanao for possible projects, it said.

The cable stressed that despite official optimism over a final GRP-MILF peace agreement by the end of 2006, disputes over land and natural resources, clan conflicts (locally called “rido”), and tensions between Muslims and Christians will remain important undercurrents and challenges to peace and development in Mindanao.

“Diffusing such tensions will be a major challenge for the GRP-MILF peace process during the years ahead, requiring careful governance and significant amounts of foreign assistance,” it said.

Malacañang had repeatedly denied the participation of the United States government in the meeting between Aquino and Murad in Tokyo but it had refused to reveal details about the two-hour meeting.

Murad, meanwhile, expressed hopes that the government peace panel could submit its counter-proposal in the ongoing peace negotiations during the resumption of formal talks in Malaysia on Monday.

“We hope that the Philippine Peace Panel shall finally submit its draft of the political compact and so that we can start the discussion on substantial agenda,” said Murad.

Murad was upbeat over the resumption of the peace talks with the government of the Philippines (GPH) following the Aug. 4 “secret” meeting between him and President Aquino in Tokyo, Japan.

Formal talks between the MILF and GPH peace panels will resume in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 22 to 24.

“That meeting in Japan was a significant breakthrough, a landmark progress and development for the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF,” Murad stressed.

The MILF chairman pointed out the government and MILF agreed to fast track the ongoing peace process and negotiation.

Murad said that it is important to note that MILF saw in President Aquino the commitment and determination to resolve the conflict within his administration.

“For us in the MILF leadership, we want to solve the problem during our time,” said Murad.

During the “secret” meeting, Murad personally brought up the MILF’s proposed Bangsamoro sub-state which would share power with the national government.

The MILF admitted that the proposed sub-state is just a “reframed” version of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008.

The peace process between the government and MILF started in 1997 with the ultimate objective of solving the conflict in Mindanao and the Bangsamoro legitimate aspiration for identity, homeland, self-governance and right to self-determination. (Mario J. Mallari)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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