Muslim Mindanao’s expansion eyed

Published by rudy Date posted on January 30, 2009

President Arroyo has ordered the creation of a committee that will recommend amendments to a law that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to move the negotiations on territory with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front forward, including full autonomy for the ARMM, expanding the coverage of the region, and relaxing wealth-sharing provisions without having to revise the 1987 Constitution.

Mrs. Arroyo allocated P20 million from her own contingency fund to cover the operational expenses of the National Preparatory Committee, which she gave six months to come up with a package of amendments to the ARMM law (Republic Act 9054).

“There is a need to amend RA 9054 to achieve full autonomy in cognizance of the Filipino Muslims’ aspirations for self-determination. The amendments to RA 9054 shall be determined with the participation of all stakeholders through authentic dialogs and consultation to ensure that the output is truly reflective of the aspirations of Filipino Muslims,” the President said in Executive Order 777.

The committee shall be composed of a chairman and 14 members—two from the academe, two from civil society organizations, and one representative each from the ARMM regional government, from Lanao del Sur, from Maguindanao, from Sulu, from Tawi-Tawi, from the regional legislative assembly, from the presidential legislative liaison office, from the Lumads, and from the Christians.

According to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, amending the ARMM Organic Act is a “more viable alternative” to the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last year.

The pact would have created an MILF homeland, officially known as the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, that would cover 735 villages in Mindanao.

“I think it will be wiser to take a look at the provisions in RA 9054 pertaining to territory. This is one way of [accommodating the MILF demands] rather than calling it the Bangsamoro Juridical Authority. The amendments can very well be the answer to the problem on territory in the negotiations,” Ermita said.

Saying the amendments will be “more feasible” than insisting on the original homeland agreement that was already struck down by the Supreme Court, Ermita said the revisions will cover the expansion of the ARMM and the control of natural resources.

“There are subject matters pertaining to management, control and allocation of natural resources, including strategic minerals. At the very least, we will no longer be negotiating in a vacuum because there is a reference material by law existing in RA 9054. That is very important,” the Palace official said.

The issue of control of strategic minerals has been very contentious, since RA 9054 placed the said resources—including uranium, coal, petroleum, fossil fuels, mineral oil, and all sources of potential energy; lakes, river, and lagoons; and national reserves and marine parks, as well as forest and watershed reserves—under national control.

But the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act states that all areas generally belonging to the indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples, including strategic minerals, can be considered as ancestral domain.

The original homeland agreement that was supposed to be signed in Putrajaya, Malaysia in August last year grants the BJE “the right to explore and exploit potential energy sources, petroleum, fossil fuel, mineral oil and natural gas except in times of national emergency when the national government may temporarily assume or direct the operations of strategic resources for a fixed period and under reasonable terms.” –Joyce Pangco Pañares, Manila Standard Today

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