Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 20      June 25 - July 1, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines








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U.S. Oil Interests Behind Bill on Sulu Sultanate

A pipeline project in Sulu, touted the Philippine’s next frontier for the oil industry next to Palawan, critics said, appears to be the main interest behind a bill seeking the creation of a separate autonomous region in this part of Mindanao. And the U.S. has a hand in it.


Rep. Hussin Amin (1st district, Sulu) filed House Bill 5369 providing for the creation of a separate autonomous region for Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan, supposedly to jumpstart the delivery of development in this former Sultanate. The bill is currently with the House Committee on Local Government.

However, critics said that the U.S. government has a hand in the bill, which will further its economic and political interests and enable it to control not only Mindanao but the Southeast Asian region. They said that once the bill is enacted, traditional politicians may use the law to remain in power and, through them, the U.S. could control a strategic area in order to dominate oil trade in Southeast Asia.

A pipeline project in Sulu, touted as the Philippines’ next frontier for the oil industry next to Palawan, critics said, appears to be the main interest behind the bill.


House Bill 5369 has gained the support of local leaders because, its main author said, years of neglect had exhausted the hopes of the localities.

In media interviews, Amin said that the bill would direct investments to the Sultanate to enable it to catch up with other provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

He said that in Sulu, people have maintained different ways and traditions, even if they share the same religion with the Maranaos, Maguindanaoans and other Muslims in Mindanao.

A source privy to the formulation of the bill told Bulatlat that elders from Sulu supported the bill after observing that under the ARMM, infrastructure projects have only been visible in Maguindanao, hometown of Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan.

He also said that elders from Sulu are blaming the ARMM’s weak leadership for failing to improve education in the region by delaying the salaries of about 13,000 teachers last year.

The source said that fierce competition for the post of governor of ARMM among rival ethnic groups and leaders encouraged the practice of “dirty politics” rendering the umbrella unit susceptible to monopoly and “gerrymandering”.

The ARMM was formed in 1989 through Republic Act 6734 and remains to be among the poorest regions in the Philippines. ARMM ranked highest in the country’s poverty rates with an average per capita income of less than $1 per day.


Mohagher Iqbal, peace panel chief of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front told Bulatlat, “This move (referring to the bill) is the brainchild of Sec. Norberto Gonzales and Eduardo Ermita for the main purpose of establishing an oil refinery plant in Sulu…it is for business and not intended to improve the lot of Moros.

The Department of Energy awarded Service Contract 56 to Australia’s BHP Billiton Petroleum PTY Ltd., Amerada Hess Ltd., Unocal Sulu Ltd. and Sandakan Oil II, LLC, to conduct oil drilling and exploration at Sulu’s offshore areas. Amerada Hess Ltd. is a unit of Hess Limited, an oil and gas exploration outfit based in the U.S.

The consortium earmarked $43.85 million to map out the 8,620-hectare area for comprehensive geo-physical studies and drilling of four exploration wells.

Prof. Julkipli Wadi, of the Institute of Islamic Studies of the University of the Philippines, agreed saying, “U.S. President Bush himself announced that they’re looking for alternative sources of energy.”

“The Saudi and Bush connection had become so exposed now…you have Iran courting China, then Russia also closing its oil pipelines in Ukraine, and China digging oil wells in Latin America, there is an imperative for US to look for new sites,” he said.

Petroleum reserves found in Celebes Sea is being shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei while the Philippines granted foreign oil companies rights to explore the Sulu offshore for possible drilling. Wadi said, “It has been proven that the oil of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei comes from the same source… the U.S. is now seriously coming in and exploring the resources of Mindanao.”

“The pattern is very obvious,” he added, noting that U.S. presence has become permanent in Sulu. “Lahat na ng gimmick ginagawa, kahit walang terorismo palalabasing meron, kung walang encounter ginagawang civic and medical operation…lahat ng anggulong puwedeng pasukan ay sinasamantala ganun kalaki ang interes ng US,” (They are resorting to all sorts of gimmicks.  Even if there are no terrorists, they make it appear otherwise. If there are no encounters, they conduct civic and medical operations…they use every opportunity to stay in the area. That shows how big U.S. interests in the area are.) Wadi said

Trade off

“The creation of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan (a portion of the traditional Sulu sultanate) into another so-called autonomous region is the latest move in the cycle of creation of areas into towns, allegedly to deliver basic services to the people especially those in the barangays. But all these are plain and simple ‘gerrymandering’, all for the purpose of dividing the pie to satisfy a local elite and nothing more,” Iqbal said.

“It has very little bearing on the peace talks because our approach is not to deal with the situation bit by bit…whatever is taking place within this government is considered internal to it,” he said.

But with the U.S. slowly encroaching on the territory, Wadi said, it would be difficult both for the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to secure their areas.

Wadi said that the bill could be part of a trade-off between the Philippine and U.S. governments.  He said that the Philippines is a beneficiary of a hefty $21 million aid from a U.S. government-owned corporation to help the government curb graft and corruption.

He noted that 25 percent of grants provided by the U.S. through the years have largely been directed to Sulu.

In its 2005-2009 Strategic Plan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) intends to allot funds to help in the integration of some 12,000 MILF fighters and 1,000 MNLF ex-combatants, providing for education and health assistance to encourage their full integration. Projects also include providing electricity to some 6,000 households of former rebel soldiers in the ARMM and other conflict areas.

A more divided Mindanao may result from the bill, said Wadi. “The bill is remiss of the idea of genuine autonomy and national power...this will only create another turf for traditional politicians, a classic divide-and-rule tactic by the government,” said Wadi.

 “The fact remains that the U.S. is grabbing every opportunity to stay long in Sulu. Whether for oil or to maintain security installations in Southeast Asia, the Sulu territory proves to be of strategic importance to the U.S.,” he said. Bulatlat



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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