By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Local and foreign investors interested in natural gas and oil exploration in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) have increased since the region’s interim government was established last March.
“Actually, many groups have one after another expressed interest in exploring and developing energy sources in our region in a fashion elating us,” Abdullah Cusain, deputy executive director at BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Murad” Ebrahim’s office, told Manila Bulletin over the phone on Saturday.
Cusain said officials or representatives of different investment groups have sounded off Ebrahim and other BARMM officials on their proposals.
He said most of the proposals focused on the 220,000-hectare Liguasan Marsh, while others targeted the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, all BARMM component areas.
The Liguasan Delta lies on the border of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato. But the largest portion of the marsh is located in Maguindanao, a component province of BARMM. Contemporary studies showed the Marsh is replete with vast natural gas deposits estimated at trillions of barrels.
In some online posts, former Maguindanao Rep. Zajid Mangudadatu had presented video footage showing samples of natural gas being used for “unlimited” cooking by hundreds of residents in the delta.
In two or three public pronouncements, President Duterte urged BARMM officials to fully harness the potentials of the marsh. “That’s yours, nobody with meddle with you,” Duterte said in Cebuano dialect.
Republic Act 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law, ratified in plebiscites early this year, empowers the BARMM government to manage and exploit natural gas deposits within its domain in accordance with laws on promotion and sustenance of balanced ecology, environment and culture in the communities involved.
“We are evaluating proposals received from influx of investment groups to ensure compliance to the letter and intent of laws,” Cusain said.
The latest proposal, he said, was presented by Energy World Group (EWG) Executive Director Graham Stewart Elliot in a meeting with Ebrahim at the BARMM complex here on Friday.
Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, who accompanied Elliot to the meeting, said EWG is a player in the energy industry in Asia focused on delivering clear energy.
Sobejana said Elliot conveyed his intention to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the BARMM leadership for an exploration project in Sulu.
He viewed the project as a potential opportunity “to create more employment opportunities for residents and former terrorists in Mindanao,” particularly in Sulu where the outlawed Abu Sayyaf group maintains enclaves.
“The military is ready to support any joint venture, co-production, and sharing agreements that comply with the legal requirements and redound to the benefits of the Bangsamoro people. We are for peace and development in the Bangsamoro region, and we remain committed to support any development initiatives in the operational area,” said Sobejana.