MANILA — The Sulu Sea, including the Moro Gulf, shall retain their names and shall neither be removed from the Philippine map nor be deleted from the history of the Philippines. This was emphasized by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) peace panel chair Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer during the recent House of Representatives Special Ad Hoc Committee Public Hearing held at the Provincial Capitol Gymnasium in Jolo, Sulu, on November 19.
“The Bangsamoro waters and the Zones of Joint Cooperation in the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf will not change the name of the Sulu Sea. It will not be eradicated from the map of the Philippines. In fact, it will be protected so that the people of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi will be the first to benefit from its resources,” clarified Coronel-Ferrer.
This statement was issued in response to the concerns expressed by the people of Sulu who stand firm on their right over the Sulu Sea as it is the reflection of the long history and ancestral domain of the Tausug and Sama peoples.
Coronel-Ferrer further explained that the “Bangsamoro waters is within the vast area of the Sulu Sea and shall not in any way diminish the territorial sea area.” She said that “the Bangsamoro waters and the Zones of Joint Cooperation in the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf merely ensure that the Bangsamoro people and other indigenous peoples in the adjoining provinces and the resident fishermen in the Bangsamoro shall have preferential rights over the resources from these seas and will benefit from the exploration and utilization of potential energy resources in the vast Sulu Sea.”
Under the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is the enabling law that shall pave the way for the establishment of the new autonomous region, “the Bangsamoro waters shall extend up to 22.224 kilometers (12 nautical miles) from the low-water mark of the coasts that are part of the Bangsamoro territory. The Bangsamoro waters shall be part of the territorial jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro political entity.”
Beyond the 22.224 kilometers, an area will be designated as the Zones of Joint Cooperation control. These zones do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro but a joint body will be created to ensure the protection of the environment and of traditional fishing grounds, and to enhance the connectivity of the constituent units of the Bangsamoro. There shall be free movement of vessels, goods and people in these areas.
Representative Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, assured the close to a thousand Suluanos, including their local chief executives, who attended the House committee hearing that “the Sulu Sea will never be erased from the map of the Philippines. We [the House of Representatives] will not allow the derogation of the name of the Sulu Sea.”
Sulu Representative Tupay Loong, said that no one can change history. “Sulu Sea has been the ancestral waters of the Sulu Sultanate. I will ensure you the rights of the Suluanos over the Sulu Sea are reserved during the deliberation on the BBL in Congress…We will benefit from potential economic activities in these waters,” said Loong.