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A referendum? Learning from the Catalans

The BBC reported over the weekend that the Spanish Region of Catalonia wanted to be independent from Spain. If you looked into their history, for centuries the Catalans never wanted to be under Spain because they are proud of their language and culture, which is separate and distinct from Castille. I guess this includes also the Basque Region that had a separatist movement for a long time now. With the new Catalan government held by the separatist, they have vowed to hold a referendum within the next four years on independence from Spain.

Meanwhile, Scotland, which came under the United Kingdom 300 years ago, is also planning to have a referendum on Scottish independence from Britain. That referendum, whether to stay in the British Union, will be held sometime in 2014. These are not new emerging states, but old ones that have their own language and culture.

Perhaps now is the time that we put this issue in question… whether the people of the Visayas would also want to hold a referendum to be independent from the rest of the Philippines. Many columnists and radio commentators especially in the Visayas (not just in Cebu) have long bewailed the fact and the reality that the Central Government in Manila never cared for the rest of the country. Since 1946, the Presidents of this country all come from Manila. Even that old tradition of having a Vice-Presidential candidate coming from the Visayas or Mindanao has been totally disregarded. So the big question is…should we allow ourselves to continue being under a centralized political system that favors only the nation’s capital?

There’s a new book that was launched only last March this year entitled “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty” written by two American economists, Daron Acemoglu, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (NMIT), and James Robinson, a Harvard professor. I already read the reviews of this book and I’m getting one.

In the review about this book it reads, “The volume presented a detailed argument for a proposition that a nation’s economic success is predominantly determined by its political institutions. Inclusive states have no single center of power but are innovative and prosperous, thanks to the jostling of competing interests under the rule of law and secure property rights. Inclusive democracies with strong independent judicial systems thrive. It claims that importance of politics is far ahead of geography, resources or culture, that freedom begets prosperity.

Countries such as Great Britain and the United States became rich because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society with political rights more broadly distributed and the government accountable and responsive to citizens. In the countries the great mass of people could take advantage of economic opportunities. To the contrary, nations dominated by self-centered elite fail and they are extremely poor. Extractive totalitarian states are in a vicious cycle of plutocracy, suppression of technological innovation and economic and personal freedom.”

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Whether you believe it or not, the Philippines today is a failed democracy. Our centralized system of governance favors only a political elite that has ruled this country since the Filipino people got rid of the Marcos dictatorship 25 years ago. Last May this same political elite removed a sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on charges that could render many of our senators equally as guilty as the Chief Justice, but they have effectively placed the Judiciary under the Office of the President.

A case in point was when newly appointed Associate Justice Marvic Leonen issued a statement that he will be “independent.” We would like to ask him… how can we believe that when he even wears a yellow band on his chest? The yellow band is not an official symbol in the Philippine government. It is a symbol of the Aquino family. So how can he say that he would be independent? It’s no different from Chief Justice Enrique Fernando holding an umbrella to keep the First Lady Imelda Marcos under the shade.

There’s been a big clamor from the people in the South for Charter changes, but the political elite refuses to do so because their kind have flourished under this Constitution. What is there left for us to do? I dare say that it is time for the Visayans from Panay, Negros, Bohol and Cebu to call upon our political leaders to pressure the central government for a constitutional convention (con-con). If they still refuse to do so, then it is time to call for a referendum for an independent Visayas State. Actually, we only wanted to embrace federalism, but we are running out of options. When we have a Senate that is dominated by famous family names, while the rest of the people could never hope to become a part of this exclusive club, then it is time to change our system of governance, through a referendum, not arms.

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E-mail: vsbobita@mo-pzcom.com or vsbobita@gmail.com


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