ARMM ‘multipartite’ forum tackles environment, natural resources issues PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 23 August 2014 11:44

Stakeholders on Thursday agreed to cooperate in enforcing mining laws in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, where vast deposits of fossil fuels and minerals are tightly guarded from illegal explorations.    Environmentalists, officials of the ARMM’s natural resources department, representatives of the Moro and indigenous non-Moro highland communities met at the Office of the Regional Governor (ORG) in Cotabato City and discussed lengthily the region’s potential mining sites, which can be explored to benefit the local communities.       Some key participants to the forum were for “responsible mining,” one with social and environmental components meant to ensure the welfare of communities in extraction sites and the prevention of ecological hazards.

The event, Multipartite Forum on Environment and Natural Resources, was jointly organized by ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, Regional Natural Resources Secretary Kahal Kedtag, and Oblate priest Eliseo Mercado, Jr., director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance.

The ARMM government has limited, defined powers to allow mining operations in the autonomous region, as provided for by its charter, the Republic Act 9054. It is only the national government that can issue licenses for extraction of oil, natural gas, and strategic minerals, such as Uranium, in any part of the autonomous region.

The ARMM government earned a total of P140 million from regional wealth tax levied on mining operations in the autonomous region in the past two years, according to regional officials. The regional government has so far issued, during the time of the now detained ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, only a few mining production sharing agreements covering selected areas in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Tawi-Tawi provinces. The ARMM also covers the island provinces of Basilan and Sulu. Maguindanao is located along Central Mindanao’s 220,000-hectare Liguasan Delta, which is the world’s largest and said to have vast deposits of natural gas and oil. There are towns in Maguindanao where Moro peasants drilling for water for their farms and houses got flammable high pressure natural gas from the pipes they drove deep into the ground instead.

Lawyer Randolph Parcasio, legal counsel of former ARMM Gov. Nur Misuari, told reporters present in the forum that foreign experts found out that in Maguindanao’s Sultan sa Barongis town, there is an “encapsulated” natural gas deposit enough to generate power for all of the 36 towns in the province for at least four decades. The studies on the natural gas deposits in Maguindanao’s adjoining Sultan sa Barongis and Rajah Buayan towns were initiated in 1997 by geologists from the Malaysian petroleum giant Petronas Carigali and the Philippine National Oil Corporation. Speakers from different groups had also talked about the adverse effects of “unprotected” mining to the environment and the local communities. Parcasio said it is important to enforce stringent mining laws in ARMM’s mineral-rich areas to ensure that extraction activities will benefit the local Moro, Christian and lumad communities.    “Mining activities should involve the local communities for them to directly benefit from it, not those capitalists from faraway places,” Parcasio said.

Also discussed during the forum were the importance of forest conservation and the massive planting of bamboos and Vetiver grasses along rivers, mountain ridges and in surroundings of swamps in the region to prevent floods and soil erosion. The roots of vetiver grass (Chrysopogon Zizanioides) can penetrate from as deep as two to three meters from ground surface and can strongly bind underground soil, sand and gravel formations. The forum was also attended by Mary Grace Ellen Villanueva of the Alyansa Tigil Mina, reforestation and bamboo propagation specialists Marjorie Marasigan and Mark Bautista, Loi Mananlasan of the Bantay Kita, and ARMM Regional Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia.