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Critical period for peace talks


PEACE TALKS UPDATE - I read the joint statement issued by the GPH and MILF panels after last weeks's latest round of talks in Malaysia. As expected, it was positive and in general terms with motherhood statements. The media release however by GPH panel chairman, Atty Marvic Leonen lamenting the "slow pace" of the talks revealed the behind-the-scene actual situation.

My take so far is that the MILF wants an early resolution of the political aspect of the negotiations (sub-state proposal) while the GPH is not about ready to deal with this. Knowing the MILF way of carrying the talks, they will courteously engage the GPH on other "collateral issues" but will wait and hang things until the political aspect is resolved.

If both sides intend to have a peace agreement "by March this year", as they ambitiously predict, then they have to deal with the difficult issue first. All the rest will just follow as a matter of course. No doubt, the February and March negotiations period will be critical.

There are indications that Chairman Leonen may throw in the towel soon if he realizes that this is "mission impossible" for him. Then for MILF chief Kagi Murad, he may have to start worrying how to keep intact his constituency, which had been patiently keeping faith in the process and whose expectations were heightened, if there is no early settlement. It has now become a "make or break" situation for both sides.

In the sidelines, Nur Misuari's MNLF keeps saying that what is needed is not another new peace agreement with the MILF but an enhancement of the 1996 peace agreement. And he is backed by the Organization of Islamic Conference which by the way, keeps on trying to unify the bangsamoro with the amity arrangements between the MILF and the MNLF. Several visits to MILF's Darapanan camp had taken place for this purposed. However, the Malaysians, who are brokering the GPH -MILF talks are wary of giving Misuari a dominant bangsamoro role owing to Misuari 's constant "Sabah claim" refrain. As an added sidelight, renegade Umbra Kato is confirmed by my sources as alive saying that it was the MILF that "killed" him in the media. Interesting but critical time, indeed!

SECURITY FOR MEDIA - After I wrote last week about arming our media men who needed protection, I got several reactions not only agreeing but asking when the gun handling and proficiency training be done! I think it should not only be about guns but how journalists can prepare themselves and deal with threats or actual dangers, even discussing individual cases if some specific threats will be raised and providing actual contingencies. Meaning providing so - called "lifelines" or security cover whenever appropriate even on an individual basis.

We will try to organize some security experts and get security officials to give inputs and craft with the media men contingency plans. We will let everyone know when we are ready to go.

POWER PROBLEM NOW! - I received from Blogger Hio Tiao "Bong" LIM some info about the recent power situation in Mindanao as officially released by the National Grid Corporation (NGCP). Mindanao is now starting to have SHORTAGE of power! That's why some areas without having back - up generation will start having brownouts. This is still minimal shortage at this time though. But as projected, this will worsen in the coming years unless more generating capacities are added to what we presently have in the island region. Lucky Davao city! The Davao Light standby generators are ready for action in case of a shortfall. Lucky Davao City! The city council boldly approved recently the proposed coal-fired power plant which will again insulate, on the long term, Davao City when the real crunch comes in a year or two.

To illustrate - last week, Mindanao was supposed to ideally have an average power reserve of 100 megawatts. But as it happened, we did not have that projected reserve at all. Worse, we had a deficiency or shortage of from 40 MW to 60 MW at any day.

Compare this with Luzon which had,in the same period , an actual reserve of 1000 MW and VIsayas with 300 MW.

Those who are opposing new power coal plants may find themselves more helpful if they focus their advocacies to securing mitigating measures instead of totally opposing. Yes indeed, they are entitled to oppose if they so decide. But again, we are not living in a dream world. We have realities to face. And one of them is: a looming power crisis ahead unless we get all our acts together.

OPEN PIT MINING BAN STOPPED - Two weeks ago, TVI Resource Development (Phils.) Inc., a mining company in Zamboanga peninsula won its preliminary injunction petition in a Dipolog court and effectively stopped the implementation of an open pit mining ban imposed by the provincial government of Zamboanga del Norte. The main case will still be litigated but the Judge found preliminary basis on TVIRD's claim that the local Ordinance has apparently some constitutional infirmity.

The court also ruled that the open pit mining ban Ordinance will bring irreparable damage not only to the company but to the host areas and the Subanon lumads and the communities that have been benefitting from its operations.(Todate, close to 50,000 residents signed petitions opposing the ban Ordinance. Host Siocon and other neighboring towns are up in arms against the ban.)

The provincial government also failed to preliminarily convince the Court that TVIRD's mining operations are harmful to the environment. In fact the company showed proof that it even helped clean up the poisonous and dangerous wastes brought about by the small scale miners in the Siocon highlands.

WHAT NOW SMI & SOUTHCOT? - For sure, the Dipolog court ruling must catch the attention of Sagittarius Mining, Inc and the provincial government of South Cotabato where an earlier and similar open pit mining ban was approved.SMI, by the way, has not gone to court to question it because its commercial stream will still start in 2016 or about 4 years from now. And it is relying on the possibility that the provincial board of South Cotabato will consider a review of the Ordinance. Perhaps now, the SOUTHCOT SP can take a cue from that Dipolog ruling and start working for a win-win solution.

In the meantime, the almost $6 billion dollar investment for what is reputedly one of the biggest mineral reserves in Asia is teetering on some uncertain future. Worse, a few days ago, the DENR denied SMI 's request for the issuance of an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) principally because the provincial ordinance banning open put mining is still subsisting and not amended.

It will be a sad day for Mindanao if that huge investment, again the biggest direct foreign investment in the Philippine horizon today, will be lost and will go somewhere else. And alas for the local communities, beneficiaries and stakeholders who will just continue to wallow in poverty just salivating at the untapped wealth right under their noses and lose the opportunity of a lifetime.

SEEING IS BELIEVING - By the way, someone asked me why TVIRD is getting massive support from the Zamboanga stakeholders and communities (except the provincial government, of course) while SMI in South Cotabato is still agonizing with some hostile opposition from the ground. My answer is simple. In TVI, the communities and the host lumads saw the operations for themselves (TVI is entering its 7th year of operations) and verified its actual effect on the environment and moreover experienced and received the benefits of the mining operation,(like host 4th class Siocon becoming 1st class municipality).

In the case of SMI the stakeholders are still abstractly viewing the promised benefits, mitigation measures and other supposed windfall that has not yet fully come their way. Hence, they become easy target for the doomsayers who picture mining as an ugly monster out to devour the environment and the future of the people.

ANTI-MINING - Not to be outdone, anti-mining groups are also girding for more upscaled campaigns. There is a forum at the Ateneo de Davao on January 26 spearheaded by new Ateneo University President, Fr Joel Tabora who interestingly, immediately after his assumption unfurled a huge ANTI-MINING streamer at the university facade fronting the main street and glaring at plush Marco Polo Hotel across.

Just out of curiosity, I asked some Ateneans why they were against mining. I got a curt reply that they had no hand in the putting up of that streamer. And it did not speak for all of them. Interesting!

By Jess Dureza

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