[Mindanao is known as “The of Promise”. The promise of all the promises. Treasures, Land of God, the Lost Paradise, The lost garden of Eden and the land of the last judgment in earth. Bible scholars even pointed the Mindanao as the land of promise of all promises. One verse of the Bible quoted “The God’s kingdom will rise again in the east of the east seas where the Sun will rises first, in the white sand shores where the only land which people are willing to live and die for praising my name ”.]
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, chromites, 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.