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A Charter for Bicolanos - Philstar.com

By the time this column goes to press, I will be in Lake Buhi, a lake in Buhi, Camarines Sur made famous by sinarapan which is the world’s smallest commercially-harvested fish. Sometimes Bicolanos use the name buhi for the fish as well but the real name is appropriate because it is said to be “talagang masarap.”

We, Manilans seldom know about these things — how the lake was formed and why it should be home to a good-tasting fish. Bicolanos speak of its incredible beauty.

No wonder it was chosen by the advocacy group Bicol for Greater Autonomy to write their charter. This resort town could stand more development for its bountiful resources — fish, a forest beside the lake with different species of birds as well as flying lizards and civet cats. Only the people who live in Buhi can truly appreciate the beauty and riches of the province but they are discouraged from doing so because they do not have proprietary rights on development. Under the present system they merely inhabit the place waiting for imperial Manila’s decisions to make a life for them.

Manila, on the other hand looks to it more as a source of water supply for the National Power Corporation and the National Irrigation Administration. But with the Bicol for Greater Autonomy gaining ground, I do not think it would be for long that the people living around the lake or indeed elsewhere in the six provinces of the Bicol region will remain oblivious of what they can do to develop their natural resources as they see fit.

In essence that is the message given in these meetings and will soon be written down in a charter to lift themselves out of their poverty and seek investments for development.

The meeting in Buhi which brings together convenors, advocates and followers began in Albay and went on to Naga, Masbate, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur and Catanduanes. Jimenez and Co. gathered like-minded Bicolanos into a group dedicated to carrying the message of greater autonomy through universities in the region. The group had the help of local media but little or almost nothing from national media that is why so few outside Bicol know of it.

After many discussions, it has become clear that the greater autonomy they sought can only be done through Charter change. They will draft the charter to make Region 5 as another autonomous region similar to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). At present, the 1987 Constitution only gives that status to the latter two with CAR only a limited administrative autonomy.

As I see it, Bicol for Greater Autonomy is different from the two as these arose from ethnic differences and violence. Bicol’s reasons for greater autonomy are distinctly economic. They hope to answer the question if Bicol is so rich with natural resources, why is it so poor?

As Jimenez has said time again it is time to change. He likes to cite Masbate “virtually sitting on a mountain of gold,” and yet from childhood, Masbatenos dream only of leaving their homes because there is no future for them here.

“Why is Masbate so poor? Again, I say, it could be the present system. With high hopes, if Bicol Autonomy becomes a reality, Masbate and even the entire region will definitely be something much better than today,” Jimenez said.

The Bicol region is rich in natural resources and manpower. He adds that with effective administration, utilization and distribution of our natural wealth will boost the current regional economy.

Bicol’s impetus for greater autonomy departs from the reasons that mainly created ARMM and CAR. They are for Charter change that will free them from constraints of dependency on Imperial Manila. They are in a better position because they have the advantage of learning from the experiences of these two existing autonomous regions.

The Bicol Charter change advocacy is focused on the economic and how solutions can be found to ease the poverty in the region.

Inevitably these solutions require political clout and essentially means a shift to federalism. The next time, lawmakers in Manila say Charter change is dead, they had better look to Bicol. Although they avoid using the term federalism, they are not averse to following the federalist principle.

Bicol for Greater Autonomy will be a good model for other regions because poverty in the region is one of the highest in the country. For example, in Cawayan, Masbate, it is at 72.5 percent, followed by other municipalities in Masbate such as San Pascual with 72 percent and Claveria with 69.6 percent. the region is rich in natural resources.

The irony grates because Bicol is also home to 13 major fishing grounds that supplies fish markets as far as Metro Manila. It is one of highest producers of palay, abaca, corn and coconut. It has voluminous mineral reserves including gold, copper, silver, iron, phosphate rock, perlite, red clay, marble, guano and bentonite. Energy sources include geothermal like the Tiwi and Bacon-Manito geothermal plants, that supplies the Luzon Power Grid.

The list of resources is almost endless. It has hydropower plants at Buhi, Camarines Sur, and in Guinlajon, Sorsogon; wind resources in Baleno, Masbate; Donsol and Matnog, Sorsogon; higher terrains in Virac, Catanduanes and some parts of Burias Island; potential ocean thermal energy in Camarines and Catanduanes provinces; coal reserves in Batan, Albay, Cantanduanes and Masbate; and downstream oil facilities/depot in Pasacao, Camarines Sur, and Masbate, Masbate, with a total storage capacity of 87.9 million barrels.

Although it can be said that there is poverty everywhere regardless of what kind of government, Bicolanos are convinced that with greater autonomy, they can only blame themselves for being poor. Unlike today Bicol is poor because they have no say in developing their natural resources.

The meeting this week from September 4 to 6 in Buhi, Camarines Sur, to discuss the making of a Bicol charter will not only on economic provisions but would cover also matters like the region’s own Court of Appeals, Court of Tax Appeal and Supreme Court, like ARMM, which has the Shari’ah District Court System for the Muslim community.

Source: FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) Updated September 06, 2009 12:00 AM

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