By Jun Ledesma
I do not buy this crap being peddled by those who argue against Federalism that the poorest regions today will be suffering in deprivation if government system is changed. The fact is they have been deprived under the present system for several decades in what can only be be described as a political masochism of some kind.
I have seen various TV talks where the anti-Federalist guests would gave us this scare. They sport a smirk on their faces as if telling their audience how one can think of changing the unitary government when there are regions that need financial aid from the central government. One of the guests in Pinky Web’s show even made it simplistic. Why cannot politicians just work on the IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment) so that they may have a larger share?
Such mindset actually proceeds from sheer ignorance of the potentials of the regions referred to presently as poor. It is in fact a sublime paradox that some regions considered by the centrist disciples as depressed actually contribute immensely to the wealth and comforts of those we see today as rich and endowed Imperial Manila. Let me illustrate this based on my personal experience. I strayed into an informal gathering of businessmen in Makati last week. “Ano ang mangyari halimbawa sa Surigao (provinces) at yong island municipalities kung hindi tulungan ng national government? At itong Bangsamoro land? Mas lalong magkagulo dyan pag hindi tulungan ng central government?”
It’s so easy and casual for the centrists to come out with these usual line. Maybe the richest region in terms of metalic and non-metallic deposits in the country are the Surigao provinces. In the bowels of the earth of the entire Caraga Region of northeastern Mindanao which is comprised by Agusan and Surigao provinces and the island towns are awash with precious metallic deposits: nickel, copper and gold to name a few while lime and coal resources are barely touched. The swamps in Agusan have veritable natural gas deposits and it tells us that oil is a big possibility. There are talks of deuterium as the last resource for energy and Surigao deep is said to have an infinite resource. Siargao of course has become a prime tourist destination especially for surfers who are in search for ultimate adventure.
The biggest mining operations in the country are in Surigao and Agusan, South Cotabato and even in the almost-forgotten-land of Tawi-tawi which are all in Mindanao. Billions of raw and processed ores have been exported worlwide from the crude piers in the these parts. But where do mining companies pay taxes? Answer: In Imperial Manila! Who gets the biggest share of the IRA? Imperial Manila. A federal government will correct this iniquity in that 75% of the income/revenues derived from these regions in Mindanao will now be retained. There will be immediate bonanza. The gains of Mindanao regions will be a loss of Metro Manila.
Non-mineral resources are also found in Mindanao. Liguasan and Agusan marshes have untapped natural gas. Mindanao has its share of freak typhoons but it remains to be the veritable food basket of the Philippines. It’s the second largest exporter of Cavendish bananas in the world and the country’s biggest industry employer. It is home to pineapple plantations and the the seas around it are rich with marine resources. The biggest remaining coconut plantations in the country is scattered all over the island.
The potentials of every region in Mindanao are immense. Whatever the form of the Federal System be what matters most to us is justice and fairness in the allocation of wealth which had been denied Mindanao all these decades. It is time to put an end to treating Mindanao and other regions of the country vassals of feudal Manila. The ticket to freedom is Federalism.