After five decades of bloody conflict, the southern Philippines could soon be open for investment, after a peace agreement was reached this weekend between the government and Muslim insurgents.
The area where the conflict was the most intense—particularly the 38,000 square mile island of Mindanao—has been long-coveted by Philippine investors, foreign governments and multinational mining companies alike. In 2006, the US embassy in Manilla estimated that untapped natural resource wealth in the country could be worth as much as $1 trillion, in a cable later made public by Wikileaks:
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, chromite, silver, lead, zinc, and iron ore. According to data from the GRP Mines and Geosciences Bureau, up to 70 per cent of the Philippines’ mineral resources may be in Mindanao.
Natural gas and oil deposits have been identified in three areas in the south, the cable said, including the Liguasan Marsh, which, it notes, is “an officially declared bird sanctuary and game refuge.”
The southern Philippines is a “very rich area in terms of natural resources that has remained untapped because of the conflict,” Steven Rood, the Asia Foundation’s Philippines representative, told Quartz. In addition, “it’s a gorgeous place for tourism but the only reasonable operators now are the Philippine Marines,” he said. There are pristine beaches and wonderful bird-watching, flat land for palm trees, and its waters have not been over-fished, he said.
The peace agreement creates an autonomous Muslim-dominated region that will retain control over much of the revenues from natural resources in the area.————————————————————————————————————————————————-
Fighting erupted between Army soldiers and Moro breakaway rebels in Maguindanao province on Monday, two days after the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) successfully ended negotiations to end a decades-long insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of people.
At least three members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were killed in a clash with government forces in Sultan sa Barongis town in Maguindanao around 2:30 p.m., Brig. Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan, chief of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, told the Inquirer.
“Our operations against them are well coordinated with our counterparts in the MILF,” Pangilinan said. “Our main objective here is to prevent any group to sabotage the smooth outcome of our peace talks.”
According to the BIFF leader, Abu Misry Mama, only two rebels were wounded. The BIFF, which split from the MILF in 2008, opposes the peace talks between the mainstream Moro rebel group and the Aquino administration.
In Kuala Lumpur, government and MILF representatives signed on Saturday the last of four annexes to the Bangsamoro framework agreement that would pave the way for a comprehensive peace deal.
“The military has been trying to bend its tolerance, but the bandits continue its lawlessness. We cannot allow this to happen,” Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, told reporters in a news briefing on Monday.
Shelling in Pikit
Soldiers of the 602nd Infantry Brigade fired more than 20 rounds of 105 mm howitzers toward Barangay (village) Paidu Pulangi in Pikit town in North Cotabato to prevent the BIFF rebels from crossing into the province.
Hundreds of residents in Barangays Paidu Pulangi, Kabasalan and nearby villages fled to the town center to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.
More soldiers from the 7th Infantry Battalion based in Pikit were moved to the North Cotabato-Maguindanao border as a blocking force, while the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade was deployed to the towns of Datu Piang, Shariff Saydona and Sultan sa Barongis in Maguindanao.
Hermoso said another group of rebels was massing fighters at the borders of Pikit, North Cotabato, and the towns of Saydona Mustapha, Datu Piang and Sultan sa Barongis in Maguindanao on Sunday.
“We are containing the BIFF in one area in the marshland so they cannot sow terror in other areas,” he said.
Hermoso told Agence France-Presse that the attacks were launched in a bid to arrest about 25 leaders of the BIFF, a small group of between 250 and 400 militants.
But BIFF leader Mama said his followers ambushed the soldiers when they entered BIFF territory in Sultan sa Barongis.
He denied an earlier statement by Hermoso that the rebels planted a roadside bomb that exploded as a government truck was passing by.
“We are ensuring the people that the BIFF does not use land mines. Our heavy firepower comes only from rocket-propelled grenades and M-79 grenade launchers,” Mama said.
At dawn on Monday, the military launched a mortar attack in Datu Piang town. “The shelling was aimed to soften rebel positions so that ground forces can enter the area,” Hermoso said.
Hermoso said the attack was in no way connected to the signing of the normalization deal between the government and the MILF in Malaysia