NAGA CITY--In a forum calling for the creation of “genuine” Bikol Autonomous Region by amending the Constitution, lawyer Leonard De Vera, chairman of Equal Justice for All Movement, said what makes Bikol one of the poorest regions in the country is not its lack of resources but the bad effect of the country’s unitary form of government, and graft and corruption.
“Your region is very rich in resources but it is taken from you. Mayaman ang Bikolandia ngunit mahirap ang mga Bikolano,” said De Vera in the presence of representatives from various sectors in this city.
He said the revenues generated by the resources of the region would go to the coffers of the national government but little would trickle back.
“You are poor because some persons are stealing you blind. In the strength of Bikol Region’s wealth, the national government borrows money from international lending institution but very few goes to benefit the region.”
De Vera also said that the unitary or centralized form of government had badly affected the region. “Power is concentrated in the hands of very few persons. Officials can create or formulate policies that may favour their friends to the detriment of the [majority].” “So why not take this power from national government officials and give it to local leaders.”
He said if Bikol were to become autonomous, powers of national government officials would be devolved to local leaders. “When this happens, it would be better because mas madaling bantayan ang local officials.”
“It’s hard to check national government officials because they are not easily accessible to constituents at the local level.” He said it’s the local leaders who really know the needs of the people in the grassroots.
De Vera echoed the statement of former UP President Jose Abueva who was also one of the speakers in the talk.
Abueva said Bikol region has the ethnolinguistic identity and contiguous territory to be an autonomous region.
He also said that that the region had a potential for selfdetermination owing to its rich natural resources including energy resources in the form of geothermal plants, and mineral reserves.
Naga City Vice-Mayor Gabriel Bordado, who represented Mayor Jesse Robredo, in the forum said that he was supporting the call for Bikol Autonomy, and even the creation of a Federal Bikol State, believing that doing so would benefit the region.
Abueva said the current unitary form of government is very American and had not been suited for the ethnolinguistic setting if the country.
He said the problem with a unitary form of government is “the fact that it sucks out the supposed income of a local government.” He also said that unitary form of government is insensitive to the ethnolingusitic groups of the country.
“It has marginalized ethnolinguistic groups.”
The speakers all agreed that giving Bikol “genuine” autonomy by amending a provision of the constitution would be advantageous.
De Vera said he hoped that Bikol’s initiative to seek autonomy would be followed by the 15 other non-autonomous regions in the country.
“What was started in Legazpi City should reverberate throughout the country.”
Under an autonomous Bikol, all other powers of the national government will be devolved to the regional government except when it comes to foreign policy, national defense, transportation and communication, customs, and civil rights.