LUNA, APAYAO – Sangguniang Kabataan officials from all over the province of Apayao overcame inclement weather to discuss and commit their support to Cordillera autonomy on August 10th. Apayao SK Kabataan Provincial Federation President Wenz Nathaly Cagat co-organized the event in partnership with the Apayao provincial government and the Cordillera Regional Development Council (RDC-CAR). Autonomy advocates Philip Uba of Apayao and Laurence Bayongan of Kalinga discussed the history and current pursuit for regional autonomy in the Cordillera.
Uba discussed the region’s struggle for identity and self-determination with a brief history of the different administrative divisions of the Cordillera. He recalled that the Cordillera region has gone through several iterations before the current administrative set-up. Uba described the old 19th-century Spanish comandancias of Amburayan, Kiangan, Bontoc, Lepanto, Bontoc, Kalinga, and Apayao and others which later were grouped as Mountain Province with Amburayan being dissolved into La Union and Ilocos Sur.
He added that the Mountain Province consisted of the sub-provinces of Bontoc, Ifugao, Benguet, Baguio City, Apayao, and Kalinga established an identity for the Cordilleran people. Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga-Apayao, and Mountain Province were then created as their own independent provinces in 1966. These provinces would become one again as the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) created under Executive Order 220 in 1987 as a temporary region in preparation for regional autonomy. Uba also recognized the significant role of Abra and one of its figures, the late Father Conrado Balweg, in helping create the CAR.
Laurence Bayongan, a former member of the Cordillera Executive Board, emphasized that in his youth, he developed a shared identity with his co-seminarians from the Cordillera as they were all from the “Montañosa”, the colloquial term for Mountain Province. Bayongan added that this shared identity is embodied in the proposed Cordillera Organic Law. He continued to detail the core principles of the current pursuit of Cordillera autonomy which include the ability to craft responsive policies in the region and achieve progress for all Cordillerans by fast-tracking regional development. Bayongan also clarified that the current Cordillera political leaders have agreed to pursue autonomy first towards federalism to ensure the unity of all Cordillera provinces.
The participants recognized the need to fast-track development and appreciated the opportunity that self-determination through regional autonomy can provide. A mock plebiscite was conducted among the SK officials and 98% of the participants voted in favor of Cordillera autonomy while 2% were still undecided. There were also zero “no” votes. It will be recalled that Apayao was the lone province to vote in favor of Cordillera autonomy in the 1998 plebiscite.
The RDC, through the Cordillera office of the National Economic Development Authority, continues to distribute information about and gather support for the renewed pursuit for regional autonomy with activities scheduled both in the national and local levels. The youth continue to be a priority with SK fora already conducted in Benguet, Abra, and Baguio City. Another forum is scheduled for the Ifugao SK officials later this year.
By Marlo T. Lubguban
Illustration by Don Ray Ramos