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Devolve regulation of inland waters to Bangsamoro, gov't negotiator asks

BANGSAMORO NEWS UPDATES • 03:31 AM Wed Aug 26, 2015
Chief government negotiator Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer. (OPAPP)

MANILA -- Who will have jurisdiction over inland waters in the Bangsamoro autonomous region?If the substitute bill in the Senate overrides the House version, the autonomous government in the Bangsamoro will lose supervision and control over fisheries and other resources found in all inland bodies of water in the region like lakes and rivers. This deletion in the Senate Bill 2894 is troubling,” said government chief negotiator Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer. The regulation of inland waters, along with municipal coastal waters, have already been devolved to local governments and the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Why revert such right and responsibility over such bodies of water in far-flung Mindanao to the national government in Metro Manila?”Agus hydropower not affectedCoronel-Ferrer said the provision granting exclusive power over inland waters might have been removed because of concerns over Lake Lanao, the water source that powers the Agus hydropower plants.Some sectors have expressed fears that the future Bangsamoro government will arbitrarily close down Lake Lanao, aggravating the current undersupply of electric power in Mindanao. The local population benefits from the presence of the power plants that supply them with electricity and government revenues, aside from minimizing flooding in the low-lying areas,” said Coronel-Ferrer. Moreover, since the Agus power plants are connected to the Mindanao grid and the cascading waters of Lake Lanao cross over to other local governments outside of the prospective Bangsamoro government, then the Bangsamoro government will not exercise exclusive control and supervision over these waters and utilities,” added Coronel-Ferrer.In all, she emphasized, there will be no change in the ownership and management of the Agus power plants even after the Bangsamoro government is installed. Unless water levels reach rock bottom due to climate change, the blessings from the resource and the power utilities will continue to benefit Mindanao. When conditions become severe, naturally, the basic needs of the people in the locality will take precedence,” the chief negotiator explained.She added that the best way we can address an energy crisis is by building more power plants using alternative energy resources like solar and wind power, instead of unreasonably taking away management of inland waters from the autonomous government and the local governments where they belong. We need to take away the fear and distrust if we can coexist and realize the best potential of each other,” said Coronel-Ferrer. Also, let us stop thinking of the Bangsamoro as our little brown brothers who need our paternal guidance.”Bangsamoro waters intactMeanwhile, the government panel thanked both Houses of Congress for upholding the proposed extension of Bangsamoro coastal waters to 22.224 kilometers (12 nautical miles) from the low-water mark of the coasts of municipalities that will join the Bangsamoro region.Bangsamoro waters will thus extend as additional 7.224 kilometers beyond the 15-kilometer municipal waters. The Central government and Bangsamoro government powers over the Bangsamoro waters shall be as defined in the proposed Bangsamoro law.For example, the Bangsamoro government will have exclusive jurisdiction over fisheries resources, but not over fossil fuels, defense and security in these coastal waters.Zones of Cooperation deletedCoronel-Ferrer noted, however, that the Zones of Joint Cooperation that will be established in parts of Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf was deleted in Senate Bill No. 2894. This was retained in the current House version. We are appealing to the Senate to reconsider the provisions regarding the Zones of Joint Cooperation. There are no constitutional issues with these provisions to begin with,” Ferrer said.The chief negotiator explained that the provision creating Zones of Joint Cooperation was placed to protect the indigenous fishers in these waters and enhance connectivity among the islands and the Central Mindanao. But it is also provided that there shall be free movement of vessels, goods, and people in these Zones of Joint Cooperation. Fishing rights will not be exclusive to local fishers but they will enjoy preferential rights,” said Coronel-Ferrer.Coronel-Ferrer also corrected the misinformation that the name of the Sulu Sea will be changed to Bangsamoro Sea.As proposed, the Zones of Cooperation will be managed by a council made up of representatives of the national, regional and local governments along the coasts. We are hoping the Senate reconsiders these provisions. These provisions were carefully crafted with due regard to the dependence as a source of livelihood on, and cultural and historical affinity of the Bangsamoro people to these waters. They will not prejudice to the right of all Filipinos to have a just share to the resources and free access to the zones,” said Coronel-Ferrer. In the long run, a functional council for these zones will ensure the sustainability of the fish stocks and strengthen the rule of law in these waters, Ferrer added.

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