Peace, or a steady climate of political stability, will help unlock the hidden assets of Mindanao, long touted to be the Philippines’ “Land of Promise.”
And among these assets is Liguasan Marsh, one of the more biodiverse wetlands in Southeast Asia, according to a statement by Naguib Sinarimbo, spokesperson for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm).
Sinarimbo, speaking at a recent video recording on Facebook, said peace would usher in economic opportunities for Muslim Mindanao such as investments in energy and maritime development.
He mentioned Liguasan Marsh as an example, which has long been a subject of keen interest by diverse parties due to the sheer breadth of its potential.
Straddling the provinces of Cotabato, Maguindanao, and Sultan Kudarat, the sprawling marshland is home to dozens of species of birds, fish, and reptiles. It covers some 2,200 square kilometers, 300 of which are believed to hold natural gas deposits.
Oil exploration activities are in their initial stages in Liguasan Marsh, according to Sinarimbo, who concurrently serves as Minister of the Barmm’s Department of the Interior and Local Government.
He also mentioned the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf, which are said to be “resource-rich” by independent estimates in terms of maritime, mineral, and energy assets. He said that such areas “can become beneficial to the region… but what we need is a stable peace and security so that we can exploit all of these potentials.”
The Barmm “sits strategically in the South China Sea and the Pacific through which a substantial volume of cargo passes through,” he said. He said that such cargoes may originate from Australia, heading for China, or that these may be made in China and are being shipped all the way to Europe.
With the right public policies and adequate infrastructure support, Sinarimba said the volume of these goods passing through the Sibutu Strait off Tawi-Tawi should increase.
The Sibutu Strait has been internationally recognized as a Philippine maritime passageway principally for civilian use. In 2019, the Army’s then Western Mindanao Commander and now Joint Chiefs chairman Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana was quoted to have said that Sibutu Strait, which lies between the Sulu Archipelago and Indonesia’s Borneo, was host to some $51 billion worth of sea cargo every year.
Such an important sea lane “can be exploited through the development of a logistics hub not just for this region but for the country. So this offers a lot of potential,” Sinarimbo said.
In 2018, President Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law into effect.
The landmark development had flung open the gates of institution-building, yet the period of transition from war to peace has been found to be inadequate.
Says a source close to the writer who requested to remain anonymous, “building the capability to effectively govern takes time. It is a tight balancing act given the challenges of pursuing equitable development in the region.”
Calls to extend the transition timetable from 2022 to 2025 have emanated from the Congress to the academe, from the Catholic Church to grassroots communities, from Muslim residents joining peace caravans to netizens endorsing the cause. Over a million signatures in support of the call have so far been gathered online.