The Gut Level Issue or How to Sustain the Economic Life of the Autonomy
ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews) — As early as April 1988, there were already comments from key personnel of NEDA from both Regions IX and XII that even if the Autonomous Region were allowed to retain one hundred percent of its tax earnings, it would not be able to sustain itself. It would continue to require financial subsidy from the national government.
Sometimes in some Committee meetings, but usually in private conversations among the Commissioners, it was often said that it was important that the three highly urbanized cities of Zamboanga, Iligan and General Santos be persuaded at all cost to join the autonomy. Combined the three of them could sustain a large portion of the cost of operating the autonomy. Unfortunately, nobody could tell for sure by how much. And the simple reason was really that no one knew the cost of running an autonomous government.
But perhaps the most unfortunate experience of the RCC-MM was that there was no in-depth discussion, whether at the Committee or at the Commission level, of the natural resources of the region and an attempt to figure out the economic viability of the region.
Very few Commissioners knew, for instance, that metallic mineral resources in commercial quantities are to be found only in Zamboanga del Sur and Sultan Kudarat; copper in Zamboanga del Sur and Sultan Kudarat; gold and silver, iron (lump ore), Lead and Zinc and Manganese only in Zamboanga del Sur. Non-metallic mineral reserves: cement raw materials in Iligan; limestone in large quantities in Maguindanao, and a greater portion in Zamboanga del Sur.
Thus, no one had any scenario corresponding to, say, 10 provinces, or five provinces. Even in the discussion of the 10 Billion pesos yearly subsidy from the National Government for ten years as seed money for the Autonomous Region (the original proposal was 20 Billion pesos for an indeterminate period), there were only vague and general references to so much percent of the coconut industry being contributed by Mindanao, or so much percent of the wood industry being supplied by Mindanao, and so on, and that the subsidy was merely an attempt on the part of the Autonomy to recover what has been taken from Mindanao. No specific figures and statistics were cited for each of the 13 provinces and nine cities. No explanation for the reference to Mindanao as a whole, rather than to the 13 provinces and nine cities.
And now comes the results of the plebiscite. Only the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi constitute the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. One cannot help but be anxious for the economic future of a region where the only abundant natural resources one could cite are people, water, fish and patches of forest cover.
An integral part of the discussion on economy and natural resources is ancestral domain. Let us first have a a look at the Final Report’s definition of ancestral domain (Article VIII, Sec. 49):
“All lands and other areas belonging to the indigenous cultural communities in the Autonomous Region by historic right or equitable imperfect title, by customary title, by actual or constructive occupation and possession including alienable and disposable lands of public domain, lands of the public domain undisposed of or leased, forests, pasture lands, and hunting grounds, shoals, seashores, fishing grounds, coral reefs, sacred shrines, worshiping and burial grounds and trees, ancient settlement sites, air spaces, and such other areas as may be so classified by law are hereby declared as ancestral domain: PROVIDED, That valid claims of ownership over land which have been disposed of by the indigenous cultural communities, donated to or acquired by the inhabitants of the region in accordance with customary laws of a specific tribe or the Philippine laws shall be respected and guaranteed; PROVIDED, FURTHER, That these acquisitions have been made in good faith.”
Notice that ancestral domain includes lands which are alienable and disposable and lands, including bodies of water, forest and mineral areas, which in Philippine laws on natural resources are inalienable and non-disposable.
Thus, if we talk of developing and exploiting the natural resources of the region we are most likely intruding into the domain of the various indigenous communities. Or maybe intruding is a bit too mild.
The truth is there is a very real contradiction between State interests and tribal interests. How did we feel about this contradiction in the RCC-MM?
Those directly involved were the members of the Committee on Ancestral Domain and Agrarian Reform. Their task was to define ancestral domain in accordance with customary laws and state laws within the framework of the 1987 Constitution.
Tall order. But exciting. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)
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