I talked on the phone last Saturday with Zambales Gov. Hermogenes " Jun" Ebdane who was a colleague in the ArroyoCabinet. He has set up a high-tech coastal watch monitoring system in his province, in cooperation with a Canadian firm, to spot foreign vessels intruding into his provincial territorial limits.
AMEND ARMM LAW -- I read similar positions of two (2) eminent persons who are proposing that in lieu of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the more expedient way forward, while the BBL is getting stuck in both Houses of Congress is to return back to the law of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (R.A. 9054) which they argued has no constitutional infirmities but enhancing it with applicable provisions of the BBL. This was proposed by former MNLF rebel fighter-commander JERRY SALAPUDDIN who returned to the folds of the law during martial law days and eventually became Congressman of Basilan province. Former Executive Secretary EDUARDO ERMITA, by the way, told me once how he went to the "war zone" while he was AFP army general to fetch JERRY from his Basilan hideout. I remember JERRY became Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives at one time.
Again, I have some unsolicited thoughts to inflict on everyone. Just thinking aloud on how to move forward. Please consider the following, take it or leave it. But I believe it's high time now that we consider some paradigm shift by changing the discourse from political to development.
TRACK ONE -- With the debacle brought about by Mamasapano, there is an urgent, compelling and indispensable need of re-engaging the public and the stakeholders, especially of Mindanaoans. This can be done by regional peace summits and/or focused group discussions (FGDs) to exorcise the public mind of the negative spectre spawned by the tragedy and to restore the lost or eroded trust and confidence of the public on the BBL while Congress does its job. Simply, "consulting" with and "listening" to the people. This will also allow the voices of the affected sectors heard loudly rather than be dominated by discordant voices of the "unaffected gallery" or those who are remotely affected by the outcomes. This was done by President Ramos in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF and by President Arroyo after the MOA-AD debacle. I see no reason why this will not work this time.
TRACK TWO -- While BBL is in Congress, it may be best to make the proposed law more "inclusive" and bring in all together other Bangsamoro sectors who appear to be "excluded" or "sidelined". One way is to consolidate into one road map for all Bangsamoro the new Comprehensive Agreement of theMILF (CAB), the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the MNLF and the IPRA law of the indigenous peoples.
a) To insure that MILF is put in the loop and will not "walk away" and turn its back to the settlement, a discreet effort by Congress to "vet" with the MILF the proposed changes be done. That means opening up quietly a backchannel " negotiating table" between Congress and the MILF as deliberations in Congress are going on. This will be the mechanism that will explain to the MILF the reasons for the enhancements to the BBL and also to preserve their "maratabat" (pride) that they are consulted along the way and that they have "ownership" of the outcomes.
b) The pending "tripartite review" (GRP, MNLF & OIC) of the 1996 peace agreement with Misuari's MNLF, which is unfinished but abandoned byOPAPP, be resumed and the output of the review can be inputted or consolidated in the new BBL. This may remedy or address the position of Misuari who has since reverted to his call for "independence" due to his perception that his MNLF is being sidelined or excluded from the peace process.
c) Pertinent provisions of the IPRA LAW can be consolidated in the new BBL to arrest the apprehension of the IPs that their own ancestral domains will be jeopardized by the BBL.
All this can bring about either a NEW BBL or an ENHANCED OR AMENDED ARMM LAW (RA 9054)
SCENARIOS -- There are 4 possible scenarios facing the BBL:
a) delay in the approval of BBL
b) MILF rejects the final version
c) delay in the Supreme Court if a petition is filed
d) Supreme Court rules its unconstitutionality
TRACK THREE --- Considering the above 4 possible scenarios, it may be best to look at Plan "B" or other alternative options. One possible alternative for this interregnum or possible debacle and in order to address the high expectations of the Bangsamoro -- or in a "best case scenario", soon after a new BBL is entrenched -- MASSIVE DEVELOPMENT MUST BE DONE IN THE BANGSAMORO AREA. (akin to the so-called Marshall Plan done in Europe after the World War destruction). The donor community (World Bank, JICA, AUSAID, USAID etc) and the foreign countries that have always been supportive of the peace process must be prepared this early to help the Philippine government for this massive development plan.
MILF SINCERITY --- First, allow me to help disabuse the minds of many questioning the "sincerity" of the MILF in seeking a peaceful settlement. Take it from me. I have worked with the MILF leadership headed by the late MILF Chairman HASHIM SALAMAT starting in 2001 until 2003 when I assumed as government chief negotiator and more especially with now MILF Chairman KAGI MURAD who was then my counterpart across the negotiating table as MILF chief negotiator. Subsequently, I also headed OPAPP. I could tell MILF's intentions were clear: to find a peaceful but principled settlement to the Moro problem. They have transitioned from struggle for independence to enhanced empowerment. I can cite many examples but I'll mention only one. For example: to the credit of the MILF, they have agreed early on (during my "watch" as chief negotiator) to do development on the ground while negotiations were still going on. Hence the formation of a "Mindanao Trust Fund" (with the World Bank as lead) with the MILF organizing its development arm called "Bangsamoro Development Authority" (BDA). It should be noted that this was never done before in any peace negotiations anywhere in the world. The purpose was to "capacitate" them (from combatants to development workers) and to start a modest template of development partnership and to find "comfort zones" with the donor community and the government's development agencies. The original plan was that after the final peace agreement is done, then a massive development fund can be put together with the MILF taking the lead on the ground to improve the lives of the Bangsamoro.
CAPABILITY --- While my experience with the MILF convinced me of the leadership's sincerity, the issue of "capability" however kept bothering me ever since. Unlike our AFP, the so-called command and control of MILF's forces by its leadership were -- and still are -- not that tight as we normally expected. Moreover, their communities host all sorts of armed groups (kidnap for ransom, criminals, private armed groups (PAGs) and it is too much to expect the MILF to have full operational control over all of them. Mamasapano is a stark example. Truth is, MILF numerically is a minority but they somehow showed they are carrying the torch for the Bangsamoro. The expectation was that if it is bestowed some level of authority, the MILF can eventually put some semblance of order to the disparate and challenging environment. But leveling of such expectations have some factors to consider. Reality dictates that MILF , even if entrenched, cannot dominate the scene in areas like the island provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawitawi obviously due to tribal considerations and the preponderance presence of the MNLF there. All told, tribal and ethnic considerations must be factored in the over-all picture because those who know these sensitivities are cautionary about this.
RECALIBRATE --- With the 4 scenarios above at play. we may need to recalibrate things. We know that the "mantra" of rebel groups, MILF included, is to seek a "political settlement" first and foremost, before "development" can be done in their areas, protecting their constituents from being "coopted" and their "cause" consequentially shunted aside. The mantra is: peace settlement FIRST before development. Perhaps, we can now all consider a paradigm shift: development SIMULTANEOUS with seeking a final settlement. With the need to restore confidence and rebuild lost goodwill, it may be best now that we jointly re-invent the approaches and the timelines. The MILF can be partners of the government in this massive development work, in order to win or regain lost goodwill and trust WHILE WE ARE ALL STILL FINALIZING OR ENTRENCHING OR NURTURING THE PEACE SETTLEMENT. This is a win-win alternative. Improving the lives of people is always a winner. Then the FINAL political settlement can follow. We need not force the issue now, if we can help it.
But if this is too radical a shift, then the best-case scenario is to change the discourse from political to development. The political settlement can be allowed to slowly evolve. The MILF will not -- or should not -- reject this because then it may give credence to the suspicion of some sectors that they give priority to political power than improving the lives of the Bangsamoro. For in the ultimate analysis, it is the latter that peace settlements are all about.
PEACE BUS --- As a final note. Sadly, we are all DISTRACTED from the intended main focus of the day. Investigations, blame games, calls for retributions and vengeance, seeking justice and accountability can well proceed on their own. But, these are all "side streets". Our "peace bus” has detoured from the main route. By all means, let's all recover our lost bearings.
ON VOLCANOES & POWER
We are told that the Philippines straddles the so-called "ring of fire", an arc-shaped swathe of land in the globe that includes several countries. Being in the "ring of fire" means being vulnerable to earthquakes and upheavals like volcano eruptions triggered by hot magma building up tremendous pressure underneath.
Bad and tragic for us, yes. But NOT all that bad, really! For one, due to earth's periodic convulsions, we are a mineralized land caused by the periodic movements of the earth's crust or techtonic plates pushing to the surface from the earth's wombs gold, copper and other precious metals. MOUNT APO
Talking of volcanoes. I once visited Lake Agco at the Mount Apo slopes during a media forum arranged by MindaNews. It was an ascending trip from Kidapawan City to the resort site high up in the slopes. Hot steaming water from the bowels of the earth fed into steaming ponds. It was the first time I realized that volcanoes were all not that dangerous and bad. In fact, geothermal aquifers in volcanic areas can be veritable sources of cheap power for all of us.
Nearby was the PNOC - EDC geothermal power plants. We know that geothermal plants are still, by far, the most desirable renewable power source as it leaves the least environment "footprint", leaves no waste and it is the most environment friendly source of power.
Significantly, per approved rates by the Energy Regulatory Commission, geothermal generates the cheapest power (P5.11/ kh) compared to all renewables like bio-mass (P6.63/kh); wind (P8.53/kh); solar (P9.68/kh) or even hydro (P5.90/kh). Power from coal-fired plant, by the way, costs P5.59/kh. (These rates do not include as yet, of course, other add-ons like transmission charges, taxes etc). GEOTHERMAL POWER
That's the reason why a few days ago, I was engrossed listening to Mindanao Affairs First Vice President Manuel " Bobby" Orig, of Aboitiz Power,Inc. giving a briefing on the planned geothermal power plants at the Mt. Apo national park. It was done during our reunion at the quiet retirement house of Archbishop "Emeritus" Nanding Capalla at Catalunan Grande ( on a promontory overlooking the city and the gulf) to mark his 39th episcopal ordination anniversary.
His close friends, called "NANDING BOYS" were there to celebrate with him -- although only a few of of us (Nilo Claudio , Art Milan, Tony Ajero) among the chrolesterol-watchers touched the luscious "lechon de leche" on the table. Back to geothermal. It's not everywhere where one can generate steam from a geothermal plant to generate electricity.
We need a volcano nearby where hot magma somewhere about 3 kilometers deep into the ground can heat up and boil underground water and produce steam whose force can turn turbines and produce electricity. It is a "hot pot theory" in action. It can be simply illustrated, per Bobby, by a boiling kettle (locally called a "takori") where after the water boils, steam escapes from the spout.
That steam, if controlled and managed can be a force to produce cheap electricity. What is "harvested" by the drills and pipes from below consists of 20% steam and 80% water -- the water component being injected back to the ground-- so there are NO wastes left in the environment. AP Renewables, Inc. ( APR) an Aboitiz subsidiary, is planning to build two geothermal plants at 100MW each in two sights : at Mt Apo Talomo-Tico in Magpet, North Cotabato and at Mt. Sibulan at Kapatagan that straddles Sta. Cruz, Digos and Davao City.
Although each actual plant site needs only about 1,000 square meters of land, the size of an olympic-sized swimming pool, each concession will cover about 8,500 hectares. APR is an old hand in operating geothermal plants being owner/ operator of a 458MW geothermal plant in Makban, Laguna and a 289 MW geothermal plant in Tiwi, Albay. We hope the project goes on stream quickly as we are all in bad need of power in Mindanao. When all requisites are done, the construction period to plant commissioning spans about 4 to 5 years. So let's all get going, folks!
DAVAO CANADIAN CHAMBER --- Canadian Julian Payne who is national president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CANCHAM) called me from Manila to inform me that plans are afoot for the establishment of a Davao CanCham, which will promote Canadian- Philippines investments and goodwill. He will visit Davao within the next few days to meet those interested to be charter members.
WANTED BUYER --- A plush facility that served as a learning center ( for music and language ) is being offered for sale. It is situated in a 1,500 square meter subdivision land in Guadalupe Village in Lanang. It consists of plush buildings with around 15 rooms that can be used as classrooms and around 21 lodging rooms complete with space for offices, kitchen, dining and other amenities. The reason why the facilities are for sale is because my lady friend who owns it plans on moving on with her life and career in Europe where she came from before settling in Davao City years ago. I promised to help her so email or call me @09178995377.
CRIMES OF PASSION --- Over the past weeks, we have been shaken by several crimes committed in the city that may have elements of what we call "crimes of passion" like the murders of Davao Businessman "TY" Garcia and perhaps of Lawyer Emmanuel Acuna. Another businessman, Richard King was also shot dead but this is still being investigated. Jealous lovers or business rivalry or plain personal grudges plus availability of for-hire killers make a dangerous combination. This is a slap on our justice system where people with grievances no longer resort to.
GET'S CENTENNIAL --- Today, we are marking the 100th birthday anniversary of the late Atty. GUILLERMO E. TORRES, SR. a Mindanao pioneer in education, media, banking business and other endeavors. Among others, he founded the University of Mindanao, the Mindanao TIMES, the UMBN, the Mt. Apo Science Foundation and other early pioneering projects that have become fountainheads of development in Southern Philippines up to this day.
When I was a young newsman while studying law in the late 60s, I had the privilege of working for "GE" ( while Mindanao TIMES was still a weekly). He was a quiet, low-key but passionate worker.
He was a personal friend to Philippine presidents. (I remember him playing golf with President Marcos.) Unknown to many, he was one of the early migrants from Luzon who, even before the war, had believed that being in Mindanao, specially still rustic Davao, was the way to the future. He was a visionary.