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OPINION | By the Numbers: What’s so precious in Muslim Mindanao?

Ferdinand G. Mendoza
February 14, 2015

When you get tired of reading articles and opinions about freedom, self-determination, revolutionary ideals, and similar stuff or anything conceptual about the Mamasapano carnage — the number of people killed, as can be accurately gleaned, is 44 Special Action Forces commandos, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters and five civilians — ask yourself:

Is it really a case of terrorism? What is in Maguindanao — or Muslim Mindanao, for that matter — that is so precious, groups and countries would kill for it?

Mamasapano, the town where the carnage occurred, lies in Maguindanao, one of five provinces (including parts of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat) that straddle the Cotabato River Basin.

Spanning 456,000 hectares, the Cotabato River Basin is one of 15 energy blocks identified by the Department of Energy as a source of oil and natural gas.

Gas, diesel fuel

In 2011, the DOE reported that the estimated amount of oil and natural gas in the Basin can produce 202 million barrels of crude oil and at least 821 billion cubic feet of gas.

One barrel is equivalent to 159 liters of crude oil. Typically, one barrel can produce 72 liters of gasoline and 45 liters of diesel fuel.

Thus, 202 million barrels of crude oil is equivalent to almost 14.5 trillion liters of gasoline and 9.1 trillion liters of diesel fuel.

The average car consumes about 12 kilometers to a liter of gasoline. To burn 14.5 trillion liters of gasoline, a car will have to run 174 trillion kilometers — enabling its driver to encircle the Earth 4.3 million times!

But since all cars have a period of obsolescence — usually five years — the 14.5 trillion liters of gasoline can fuel 50,000 cars consuming one liter to 12 kilometers, running at a constant speed of 80 kilometers per hour for five years, 24/7.

Hungry kids

Sold at current gasoline prices, pegged at say P36/liter, the 14.5 trillion liters of gasoline that can be extracted from the Cotabato River Basin would amount to P522 trillion.

Of course, the entire gas deposits could not be translated into such a lump sum. But imagine how P522 trillion could change the lives of our children.

Government figures estimate that some 15 million Filipino children today are either hungry and/or malnourished.

The Department of Education’s school feeding program has a budget of P16 per child, multiplied by 120 feeding days. This adds up to about P1,920 per child.

According to DepEd, the 120-day feeding program targets the restoration of at least 70 percent of beneficiaries to their normal nutritional status and the improvement of class attendance by 85-100 percent.

If we could allocate the money that will be generated by the crude oil from the Cotabato River Basin (P522 trillion) to the feeding of hungry and malnourished children (at P16 per child x 365 days), we will be able to properly feed those 15 million hungry and malnourished children for six years!

More oil

Another area identified for exploration is in the Sulu Sea covering 432,000 hectares, with water depths ranging from 1,500 to 5,000 meters.

According to the DOE, of the eight wells drilled in the Sulu Sea, “five show significant oil and gas deposits.” This area has around 209 million barrels of oil and 716 billion cubic feet of gas.

It is estimated that natural gas deposits in Sultan Sa Barongis in Maguindanao alone would be enough to fuel a 60-megawatt combined cycle power plant for 20 years.

Crude oil is also transformed into an infinite variety of products like petrochemicals, for example.

Petrochemicals are responsible for products we use every day: antihistamine, shampoo, lotion, food preservatives, computers, toothpaste, syringes, and toys, among others.

In 2012, as the government and MILF reached an agreement to create the Bangsamoro, replacing the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, President Benigno Aquino III halted all oil exploration projects in Mindanao. The reason: There has not been a final agreement on wealth sharing.

But it seems this wealth sharing problem has been resolved in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, the draft of which was finalized in 2014.

In Section 32 of the BBL on sharing in the exploration, development and utilization of natural resource, the Central Government’s income from taxes shall be derived from the exploration, development and utilization of all natural resources within the Bangsamoro.

The allocation shall be as follows, to quote:

“For non-metallic minerals (sand, gravel, and quarry resources), such revenues shall pertain fully to the Bangsamoro and its local government units
For metallic minerals, seventy-five percent (75%) shall pertain to the Bangsamoro
For fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) and uranium, the same shall be shared equally between the Central and Bangsamoro Governments.

Such sharing scheme shall be applicable to the natural resources found in the land mass that comprise the Bangsamoro territory as well as the waters that are within the territorial jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro.”

In a press conference in 2012, MILF chairman Al Haj Murad said: “We are not against exploitation of our natural resources, including oil and gas, provided that they redound to the benefit of our people.”

All this talk about Mamasapano and the SAF44 has made me curious and so engrossed with numbers. Much of this curiosity has been satisfied with just a little digging via the friendly Google — today’s ultimate source of knowledge.

There are many stories still to be told about the long and bloody conflict in Mindanao. Mamasapano will not be the last time blood will be spilled for as long as there is a war in the Southern Philippines.

Let us honor the Valiant44 who died by not reducing the Mamasapano carnage into a costly distraction vis-a-vis the real issues and problems that grip Mindanao’s present and future.