Government delays oil search in Mindanao amid peace talks-A A +A
Thursday, November 1, 2012
MANILA (Updated) -- President Benigno Aquino III said Wednesday that no gas or oil exploration will be allowed in southern regions that Moro rebels want to administer until the government and the rebels forge a wealth-sharing arrangement under a peace accord.
The government and the country's largest Moro rebel group signed a preliminary peace agreement on October 15 in a major breakthrough toward ending one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies. The accord grants minority Muslims in the south broad autonomy in exchange for ending more than 40 years of violence that has killed tens of thousands of people and held back progress in the resource-rich but poverty-wracked region.
The agreement creates a roadmap for a final peace settlement. The government and the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) aim this year to finish tough negotiations on the extent of power, revenues and wealth to be granted to the new southern Muslim autonomous region to be called Bangsamoro.
The rebels have also agreed to dismantle their armed guerrilla forces, possibly with the help of international experts, under an arrangement both sides are to negotiate.
MILF leader Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said last week his group has asked the government to postpone any bidding for oil and gas exploration contracts until a wealth-sharing agreement is reached.
The Energy department last year opened 15 areas nationwide to energy exploration by prospective investors, including areas in the south that could be included in the autonomy deal being negotiated.
"As a principle, we are not against the exploitation of our natural resources, including oil and gas," Murad said in a news conference at a southern rebel stronghold.
But he said it should "redound to the benefits of our people and should be done at the proper time and conditions."
He said his group's appeal was "very reasonable and sound."
Under the Department of Energy's Petroleum and Energy Contracting Round 4, there are at least two areas up for bidding: Area 11 in Cotabato, which is around 600,000 hectares, and Area 12, also in Cotabato, which is about 456,000 hectares.
The Liguasan Marsh in the Cotabato Basin has an area of 14,000 square kilometers.
The MILF cited that the resources in the basin are estimated to be 158 million bbl. oil equivalents, including a discovered resource of five million bbl. oil equivalent (or 29 billion cubic feet gas). The total number of wildcat wells drilled is 10.
Aquino said energy officials have not accepted any bids from any foreign or local companies aiming to explore for energy deposits in southern areas that could be covered by the autonomy deal.
"We have not opened up any area because chairman Murad is right, wealth-sharing is among the annexes we still need to finalize," he told reporters.
Other Philippine officials said the government could not be restricted from pursuing development efforts in southern Mindanao areas if it wanted to until a final peace pact defining the terms for regional economic projects is in place.
Aquino's administration has said it wants to provide enough power and resources to a new Muslim autonomous region to help it succeed, unlike an existing Muslim-administered area that has largely been dismissed as a dismal failure.
The Moro rebels have long complained that the arrival of large numbers of Christian settlers from the north and many cases of land-grabbing in past decades have deprived minority Muslims of natural resources, land and opportunities, partly sparking their rebellion.
The United States, Australia and other Western and Asian countries have backed the peace talks, which could transform rebel strongholds and battlefields into growth centers instead of potential breeding grounds of al-Qaeda-linked bandits. (SDR/AP/Sunnex)