Gov’t, MILF steer clear of snag on ‘waters’

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Monday, December 30, 2013


ILIGAN CITY — Buried in the euphoria of the signing of the Annex on Power Sharing to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on December 8 is the glaring absence of consensus on the issue of ‘Bangsamoro waters.’

In their joint statement, the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels said they will be working on “an addendum on the matter of Bangsamoro Waters” alongside completing the Annex on Normalization next month in order to pave the way in forging a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA).

The CPA will consist of the FAB plus its four annexes on transitional modalities, wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization. The addendum on Bangsamoro waters will be another documentary hurdle to forging the CPA.

The concept of Bangsamoro waters is proposed by the MILF to provide political connectivity to the future autonomous entity’s territory which are in mainland Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago.

Psychology of nationhood

According to MILF peace panel member Maulana Alonto, such political connectivity will be important to developing further the psychology of Moro nationhood.

The MILF’s proposed concept goes beyond the current notion of municipal waters which is defined by the Philippine Fisheries Code as “marine waters 15 kilometers from the coastline, including streams, rivers, public forest, timber land, forest reserve or fishery reserve within the municipality” except those subject to the provisions of the law on protected areas.

Such maritime territory will primarily involve parts of Yllana Bay, the Moro Gulf and the Sulu Sea.

Delineating Bangsamoro waters and defining jurisdiction over these will definitely have implication on sharing the wealth that will eventually be found therein.

Based on various studies, the Moro Gulf and Sulu Sea are endowed with a rich diversity of fishery resources that command high economic value. In addition, the Sulu Sea also hosts several known blocks of oil and gas deposits.

Oil, gas riches

In mid-2011, the Philippine Energy Contracting Round 4 offered to interested investors 15 blocks throughout the country covering a total of some 100,339 square kilometers.

One energy block offered is in the Sulu Sea, covering around 432,000 hectares with water depths ranging from 1,500 to 5,000 meters, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

Of the eight wells drilled within the Sulu Sea block, “five of these have significant oil and gas shows.” This block, the DOE said, holds around 209 million barrels of oil and 716 billion cubic feet of gas.

The DOE also said that three of four additional wells drilled adjacent to the block “have been declared as gas discoveries” with an estimated deposit of some 775 billion cubic feet.

Creativity

Prior to their 42nd exploratory meeting on December 4 to 8, the parties held executive sessions in November in Kuala Lumpur to thresh out the issues hounding a power sharing consensus.

In these meetings, according to MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, they maintained that a resolution on the question of Bangsamoro waters would be the deal breaker.

That a power sharing annex was clinched even as the issue of Bangsamoro waters is still unresolved shows the creativity of the government and MILF peace panels; they refused to be stuck on the issue of waters, pushing the peace process closer to conclusion.

By agreeing to create a separate document to contain the consensus on Bangsamoro waters, the negotiators kept true to their record of innovative approaches toward finding a mutually acceptable political formula to end the four-decade Moro rebellion in Mindanao.

The parties’ decision to break the consensus-building exercise into sets of major documents, beginning with the 10 Decision Points of Principles, was the principal driver of the succession of strides in the negotiations, which is entering its 17th year next month.

Through this strategy, the parties were able to classify agreements on principles from differences with details, and isolate unresolved points from the growing body of consensus on issues.

Hard-earned

For the MILF, the deal on power sharing between the central government and the future Bangsamoro government was a “hard-earned” victory in the negotiating table. The group describes it as a “product of struggle (hence) it resonates with justice...”

The parties took 18 months to hammer out the details of the document, beginning in July 2012, just before the parties concluded the FAB.

“The Annex embodies the Parties’ agreement on the delineation and sharing of power between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government within the territorial jurisdiction of the prospective Bangsamoro political entity,” the December 8 joint statement of the peace panels said.

“It also provides principles of intergovernmental relations to ensure the harmonious partnership between and among the different levels of government,” they added.

At the heart of it is the listing of some 81 governance powers. These are categorized into reserved which are exercised only by the central government; exclusive, which are to be exercised by the Bangsamoro government; and concurrent, which are shared by both, hence the need for coordinative mechanisms in the exercise of these.

Of the list, 58 are powers fully devolved to the Bangsamoro government, nine retained by the central government, and 14 are concurrent powers.

Structure of government

Another important feature of the power sharing annex is it’s providing the structure of the Bangsamoro ministerial government, which will also define its electoral practice.

Bangsamoro constituents will be electing members of its legislative assembly which is envisioned to compose at least 50 members coming from “district, party-list, reserved seats and sectoral constituencies.”

The Annex provides for the Bangsamoro assembly to be “representative of the Bangsamoro’s constituent political units, as well as non-Moro indigenous communities, women, settler communities, and other sectors...”

The parties have agreed that the Basic Law, which will serve as charter of the Bangsamoro government, must “ensure that representation in the assembly reflects the diversity of the Bangsamoro.”

A Chief Minister shall run the Bangsamoro cabinet. He/she will be elected by the assembly members from among themselves. The Chief Minister will appoint a deputy and other ministers with most coming from the assembly.

The Chief Minister will also preside over a council of leaders to be composed of provincial governors, city mayors, and “a representative each of the non-Moro indigenous communities, women, settler communities and other sectors.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 30, 2013.

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