Baguio youth leaders gather for autonomy advocacy

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BAGUIO CITY – The autonomy advocacy continues its series of fora with the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) federations of the Cordillera on July 27. The Baguio City SK Federation led by Levy Orcales and composed of the SK officials from the barangays coordinated with the Regional Development Council (RDC) Cordillera through Cordillera office of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA-CAR) to discuss the region’s renewed pursuit of regional autonomy.

Autonomy advocates Briccio Domondon of the Baguio city government, Michael Umaming of Cordillera office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Brgy. Captain Ignacio Gallente of Middle Quirino Hill presented the history of the Cordillera region’s pursuit of and its renewed efforts towards autonomy. The speakers highlighted that Cordillera autonomy is for the next generation as it focuses on ensuring sustainable development for the region through the creation of responsive policies.

To measure the pulse of the participants on Cordillera autonomy during information,  education and communication (IEC) campaigns conducted by NEDA-CAR and its partners, a mock plebiscite is held at the end of each forum. Among the SK officials who voted, 85% voted yes to Cordillera autonomy with no one voting against it. The remaining 15% were undecided. Most of the indecision stems from a question of the effectivity of an autonomous government set up. The SK officials cited  as an example the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao which is the only area for now that was granted special autonomous powers at the regional level. Nonetheless, majority of the officials stated their support for the region’s pursuit for regional autonomy as they recognize its positive effects on cultural heritage, protection of resources and youth empowerment.

An SK official expressed her support and offered to help raise awareness by replicating the conduct of IEC in her barangay. Domondon encouraged the SK officials to follow-up the conduct of IECs in their respective barangays. In late 2018, Domondon and Gallente, together with NEDA-CAR, held various Cordillera autonomy fora for the barangay officials of Baguio City while various barangays conducted their own IECs since then.

The Cordillera Administrative Region Cooperative Union (CARCU) coordinated with NEDA-CAR for a short forum on the benefits of regional autonomy on July 26. This is the first forum among a series of activities CARCU has scheduled for the second semester of 2019 where IEC on Cordillera autonomy is included. Autonomy advocate Clarence Baguilat discussed the key benefits of the Cordillera autonomy, specifically the greater opportunity for Cordillerans and their communities to determine their development.

Members of CARCU expressed their support for Cordillera autonomy with one member sharing that cooperatives are in a good position to raise awareness of Cordillera autonomy as they are “the ones that can reach the grassroots”. Another member recalled that the first two plebiscites failed because of the lack of information shared like the ones being done currently by the RDC and other Cordillera autonomy advocates. Baguilat added it is easier now more than ever to learn about the Cordillera autonomy advocacy with tools such as the internet and social media. Baguilat and the CARCU members agreed that one cannot learn all about autonomy and eventually be a part of the advocacy in just one sitting. Baguilat urged the CARCU members to expand their knowledge and participation on the Cordillera autonomy pursuit by joining the One Cordillera community on Facebook.

The members also participated in a mock plebiscite where 79 percent voted in favor of Cordillera autonomy while the remaining 21 percent were split between voting against or remaining undecided. The CARCU members attributed their doubts to a lack of an Organic Act on which they can make an informed decision and the need to know more about Cordillera autonomy.

The RDC through NEDA-SPCAR continues to engage with multiple sectors of the Cordillera, particularly the grassroots, to raise awareness on Cordillera autonomy. IEC events are held throughout the region reaching students, youth leaders, police, and local government units, among others.

Mil-an National High School in Loakan conducted literary and musical competitions centered around the theme of Cordillera autonomy on August 1. Senior high school and grade 10 students competed in essay writing, extemporaneous speech, song writing, poster making, and mural painting inspired by a brief forum on regional autonomy led by autonomy advocate Clarence Baguilat and NEDA-SPCAR.

Baguilat stressed the importance of self-determination and autonomy in the development of the Cordillera region. As a former DENR-CAR regional director, he shared his difficulties dealing with various national laws that do not take into consideration the region’s unique topography and cultural practices. He acknowledged that laws such as PD 705 or the Revised Forestry Code have helped preserve our forests but it has limited Cordillerans in properly utilizing their own property, as lands with slopes above 18 percent are classified as forestland.

He added the Cordillera region is the source of much of the water that irrigates the farmlands of Regions 1, 2 and 3. There is an added responsibility for the region to keep water sources clean but according to the Regional Development Plan 2017-2022, “existing policies do not provide appropriate assistance to upland communities that maintain the watersheds and ensure an adequate supply of clean water to downstream users”. Baguilat said that with autonomy, environmental management can be better implemented and monitored.

Consistent with the Cordillera RDC roadmap to achieving autonomy towards federalism, NEDA-SPCAR targets youth from Grade 10 onwards in line with the target date for the regional plebiscite, 2021. Response to the IEC forum was positive as 92% of the students who participated in a mock plebiscite voted in favor of autonomy while only 2% voted no and 6% were undecided. Students immediately applied their newfound knowledge in the various competitions highlighting the region’s unique role as keepers of the environment. Unity towards autonomy and environmental awareness became significant recurring themes in the student’s performances and creations. The event was initiated by school Principal Rosanna Dizon.

By Marlo T. Lubguban

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