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Gov’t, MILF agree on water territories

Only one hurdle is left: the annex on the decommissioning of rebel firearms

FINAL HURDLE. The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front only need to settle the annex on normalization before the final peace pact can be drafted and signed. Photo by Rappler

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Updated) – One of the most contentious issues in the peace talks has been ironed out. 

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Friday, January 24, arrived at a deal on how power will be shared over “Bangsamoro waters” or water territories covering the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf, MILF alternate member Antonio Kinoc told reporters here.

With this development, the panels are now down to the final issue of the talks – the annex on normalization, which would set arrangements on how the MILF would decommission their firearms. (READ: Gov’t, MILF hope to seal firearms deal) 

The Bangsamoro Waters issue was left hanging when the panels signed the annex on power-sharing in December 2013. To move forward with the talks, the panels decided to leave it as an addendum to the annex instead. 

Under the deal, Kinoc said local government units will keep their jurisdiction over municipal waters up to 15 kilometers from the coastline, consistent with the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.

Meanwhile, jurisdiction over waters beyond 15 kilometers up to 22 kilometers from the coastline will be exclusive to the proposed Bangsamoro government. This means that individuals or companies who want to fish or explore resources in the area would have to get permits from the Bangsamoro government. 

For water territories beyond 22 kilometers, the peace panels settled for a “joint cooperation” arrangement, according to Kinoc.

 

Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters

Wealth sharing

Under this arrangement, Kinoc said the wealth-sharing deal signed in July 2013 would prevail. 

The wealth-sharing annex provided a 50-50 arrangement between the Bangsamoro government and the central government on income from energy sources such as petroleum, natural gas and uranium. 

It also gave the Bangsamo government 75% of revenues from taxes and charges, as well as metallic minerals and 100% of revenues from non-metallic minerals. 

The Bangsamoro Waters issue was one of the most contentious aspects of the talks that it had to be left out as an addendum when the annex on power-sharing was signed in December.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal earlier said the issue was complicated because it involved an interplay of all aspects of the agreement – power and resources.

Before they settled for the “joint cooperation” arrangement, the MILF had wanted to establish a zone of cooperation in the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf, which would provide for equal sharing between both sides. The government had insisted it only wanted to offer royalties. 

The signing of the document on the Bangsamoro waters, as well as the annex on normalization – which will outline how the MILF will decommission their firearms – is expected to be held over the weekend. 

Congress’ role

The panels were preparing the final text of the document as of posting time. 

The talks aim to end 4 decades of Muslim rebellion in Mindanao. The insurgency has hampered development in resource-rich provinces in the South. The MILF’s strongholds are in central Mindanao, and a breakaway group opposed to the talks has been behind some attacks in the area.

Provisions of the peace pact will have to be translated into a law that Congress, dominated by Catholic politicians, will have to approve. The plan is for a Bangsamoro political entity to be set up before President Benigno Aquino III ends his term in 2016.

More details on the addendum on Bangsamoro Waters to follow once the document is released. – Rappler.com

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