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The Maranaw of Lanao and the BBL

12:42 AM May 27, 2015

Lake Lanao is one of the 18 ancient lakes in the world. It is the second largest lake in the Philippines, next to Laguna de Bay. It sits in a volcanic basin, but myths and folklore abound about its origin. According to Maranaw mythology, it used to be the site of the powerful Sultanate of Mantapoli until it was uprooted upon the order of God to establish equilibrium between Sebangan (East) and Sedpan (West), which left a huge hole in which a lake was formed when it was filled with water.

The lake is a treasure to the natives who are called Maranaw, or “people of the lake” (the root word “ranaw” means “lake”). It is the water of life for the Maranaw, as the Nile is to the Egyptians. The fresh water teems with endemic species of fish and flora and provides a source of livelihood and navigation for the people in the area.

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Lake Lanao likewise plays an important role in the practice of Islam because the Koran mandates that Muslims observe the ritual of ablution and cleansing before they perform their prayers five times a day. On a clear day one cannot but be awed by the colorful and resplendent mosques around the lake, their imposing minarets reminiscent of the Turkish and Egyptian skylines.

The lake is the primary source of power for the Agus hydroelectric plants operated by the state-owned National Power Corp., which supplies about 60 percent of the total hydropower in Mindanao. Lake Lanao, “their” lake, bestowed to them by Almighty Allah, is indeed the major supplier of power in Mindanao. (There is also Lake Dapao, another untapped and undeveloped potential source of power in the province of Lanao del Sur.)

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Ironically, over the years the Maranaw have been complaining of being charged higher power rates relative to the other residents of Mindanao. When a shortage occurs, they are the ones immediately subjected to hours of interrupted power—something which they feel they don’t deserve. They perceive this situation as a grave injustice considering that Napocor allocates a certain amount of its budget to the local government units affected by the operation of the generation plants. Worse, Napocor controls the elevation of the water in Lake Lanao and sometimes recklessly raises the water level, resulting in floods that damage the Maranaw’s fishponds and rice fields. Notably, there have been successful million-peso damage suits lodged against Napocor.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law brings fresh hope to the Maranaw, that it will help put an end to the injustice they have been suffering. Under the draft law, they will have a bigger involvement and say in the development, management and distribution of hydropower in their area.

Article V, Section 3 (15) of the draft law provides that “the Bangsamoro Government shall have authority to regulate power generation, transmission and distribution operating exclusively in the Bangsamoro and not connected to the national transmission grid …. When power generation, transmission, and distribution facilities are connected to the national transmission grid, the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government shall cooperate and coordinate through the intergovernmental relation mechanism.” Corollary to this is Section 3(14), which grants the Bangsamoro authority the power to establish government-owned and/or -controlled corporations.

These are self-explanatory provisions of the draft law which, if properly implemented, will give meaning and substance to the decades-old struggle of Moros for self-governance as a key to their development. These provisions will empower the Bangsamoro government to form its own GOCC that will develop, regulate and manage the generation and distribution of electric power within the area of autonomy. This body, the structure and mandate of which will be similar to that of Napocor, can develop Lake Dapao and other sources of hydropower that can be sold to power distributors even outside Lanao del Sur. It will have direct and intimate knowledge of the problem of the Moros concerning hydropower, and of the concern over the continuous denudation and despoliation of the remaining forest cover and watershed of the lakes. On the other hand, the Bangsamoro government will have to formulate policies and measures that will promote and enhance its harmonious coordination and cooperation with Napocor for the benefit of the Maranaw and the rest of the Moros in the area of autonomy.

Just like the rest of us, the Maranaw simply wish for a better life. Are we to deny our fellow Filipinos that aspiration?

Macabangkit B. Lanto ([email protected]), a 1967 graduate of the UP College of Law, was a Fulbright fellow to New York University for his postgraduate studies. He was governor and vice president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Western Mindanao and president of IBP-Lanao del Sur. He is also a former congressman, ambassador to Egypt and Sudan, undersecretary of tourism, and undersecretary of justice.

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TAGS: Agus hydroelectric plants, Bangsamoro, BBL, Lake Lanao, Lanao, Maranaw, Napocor
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