Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been heartened by Philippine President Benigno Aquino's suspension of biddings for oil and gas exploration contracts in the proposed new Bangsamoro region until a wealth-sharing agreement has been reached by the MILF and the national government.
"We take the President's word for it. We are grateful there will be no awarding of contracts for the exploration of oil and gas,¿ said MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal in a phone interview Thursday.
"This reinforces trust and confidence between the two parties,¿ he added.
The government and MILF negotiating panels are set to hold exploratory talks this month in Kuala Lumpur on the issues of wealth and power sharing, including the touchy issue of disarming the MILF's forces.
Aquino had concurred with MILF chair Murad Ebrahim's suggestion made Tuesday that no bidding or awarding of oil and gas exploration contracts be conducted until the government and the MILF shall have finished crafting a peace deal.
"We're not opening up areas because chairman Murad is right-wealth sharing is one of the annexes that have yet to be finalised,¿ Aquino said on Wednesday.
Murad said several areas in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)-which an expanded Bangsamoro will replace-had been found to be rich in oil and gas deposits, including three sections in the Liguasan Marsh, central Mindanao and the Sulu Sea.
Murad said it was prudent of the government not to proceed with bidding out energy contracts in the ARMM "until the wealth-sharing issue is fixed.¿
The government and the MILF have forged a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro that provides for, among other things, the creation of a Bangsamoro entity with greater political and economic clout than the current ARMM.
In 2011, the government offered to investors 15 energy blocks or areas for oil and gas exploration covering a total of 100,339 square kilometres which are "mainly located in frontier regions.¿
With a report from Nikko Dizon
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