U.S. Oil Interests Behind Bill on Sulu
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.
BY JHONG DELA CRUZ
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
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.
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
“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
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.
PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION ■
© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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