BAGUIO CITY – The highland Cordillera region, perennially wrought by natural disasters like landslides because of its topographical character, “will be giving greater emphasis to disaster resilience, as (it) battle(s) a new disaster in the form of a pandemic,” Abra Governor Ma. Jocelyn Valera-Bernos, chairperson of the Regional Development Council declared her State of the Region Address (SORA) recently.
Through the years, we have focused on addressing our vulnerability due to our region’s geographic location and topography, “but our experience with COVID-19 necessitates enriching our disaster preparedness plans and programs by including pandemic readiness and response,” she primed.
Citing the cost of the pandemic to CAR of at least 18.625 billion across all sectors, Valera-Bernos estimated an investment requirement of P33.413 billion from 2020 to 2022 for the region’s recovery.
Citing CAR’s strengths as region though, “our resilience, our perseverance and optimism as Cordillerans, we will survive. We will recover. We will overcome.” Because we, the Cordillerans, see difficulties as opportunities to be at our best, the RDC chairperson said.
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Gov. Valera-Bernos cited while acknowledging Sadanga Mayor Gabino Ganggangan and the whole people of Sadanga, Mountain Province for showing us the exemplary indigenous practice of “binnadang” (“bayanihan”) and waived their share of family food packs, because they are confident that nobody among them will allow their neighbour to go hungry during these difficult times. She took pride also of the honesty and integrity of the 30 local government units in the region which returned their excess SAP funds amounting to P25.2 million to the national government, thus allowing others who are more deserving get to use these funds.
The RDC chairperson also tipped her hat to Baguio City Mayor Bejamin Magalong appointed as the national contact tracing czar because of the impressive contact tracing efforts being done in the city.
Admitting though that CAR may have lost some grounds in 2020, “but with our collaborative efforts and with the support of the national government, we will be able to continue with the progress we have made in 2019.”
CAR’s employment rate was up, from 95.9 percent in 2018 to 96.5 percent in 2019, which is higher than the 94.9 percent national rate. More more palay and corn were produced in 2019 compared to 2018 and there was a jump in investments for PEZA and stock corporations and partnerships, as well as for sole proprietorship firms registered by the DTI, thus, more jobs were created in 2019.
Amid the losses during the pandemic though, Gov. Bernos said, CAR continues to heed the call to strengthen (its) fledgling agriculture sector, which may have recovered slightly in 2019 from losses during Typhoons Ompong and Rosita, “but (such gains) has been dealt a blow by the pandemic once more.”
Moving on though, CAR recognizes the need for stronger research and support infrastructure and inter agency collaboration to increase the sector’s productivity and add value to our agricultural products. While there is also recognition to the need to further empower micro, small and medium industries, which suffered during the ECQ. “This lifeblood of our economy needs all the support we can provide to ensure their survival and reduce their vulnerability to disaster and economic downturns.”
Amid some LGUs experiencing setbacks in 2019, our LGUs continued to build on their competitiveness, Valera-Bernos said. In 2019, two cities and several provinces and municipalities advanced in rank in the Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index citing Benguet, Ifugao, and Mountain Province. She also cited Baguio City and Tabuk City, the capital towns of Bangued, La Trinidad, Lagawe, and Lagayan, Malibcong, Luna, Bakun, Kabayan, Tuba, Alfonso Lista, Pasil, Tinglayan, Paracelis, and Tadian, for their higher rankings in the 2019 CMCI.
In 2019, twelve CAR LGUs were awarded the Seal of Good Local Governance, and 82% of our LGUs were among the Good Financial Housekeeping passers, which are “proof that our LGUs are bastions of transparency, integrity and good governance.”
She also noted positive developments in efforts to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and their families while successfully reducing poverty incidence among population from 22.7 percent in 2015 to 12 percent in 2018. Likewise, employment rate in CAR increased from 95.9 percent in 2018 to 96.5 percent in 2019. 2019 was also marked by a significant reduction in malnutrition among children aged 0 to 71 months.
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“We have always taken pride in our culture, and kept our inherent Cordilleran values close to our heart. This trait of ours had been recognized with the declaration of Baguio City as a UNESCO creative city for folk arts and crafts.” The RDC chairperson emphasized, “under the leadership of our local officials, our love for our unique heritage is also manifested and reinforced with the creation of local councils for culture and arts.”
At least 99 percent of the regional trunk line under the Cordillera Roads Improvement Project in 2019 was completed, Gov. Valera-Bernos further noted, adding, ‘paved national roads hiked from 86 percent in 2017 to 94 percent in two years.’ For the regional trunk line, only a 2.2-kilometer gap remains unfinished in Kalinga, she said.
To ensure environmental quality and sustainable use of resources, an additional 6,880 hectares of forestland in CAR reforested, increasing the total reforested area to 241,143 hectares. “Given our aggressive reforestation efforts and the perseverance of the implementers of the National Greening Program in maintaining our forests, we are confident that we shall reach our target to increase our forest cover by 5 percent by 2022,” the RDC chairperson claimed.
Taking prime on inclusive and sustainable development for CAR, Gov. Valera-Bernos pushes to build from the momentum of previous years, that basic services are available and accessible to all, and, most importantly, that we finally succeed in our quest for regional autonomy,” citing the role of local chief executives “given the daunting task not only of leading the Cordilleras towards the attainment of its vision, but also of paving the way towards recovery from the devastating impact of COVID-19.” Never has the significance of our regional spatial strategy been more critical, as social and economic transformations brought about by COVID-19 constrain us to rethink our development perspectives, she explained.
Armed with lessons learned from this pandemic, CAR “will be more resolute in pursuing equitable and sustainable development, by leveraging the strengths of our regional growth centers,” she said, citing, “now is the best time to strengthen our IT support infrastructure, as the world transitions into the new normal.” The RDC chairperson though noted that while all towns in CAR have been provided with cell site coverage in 2019, the clamour for higher internet speed, lower service costs, and connectivity for all barangays still needs to be addressed.
“More than ever, our work force, students, and small entrepreneurs need our help to cope, as COVID-19 becomes part of the new normal. Once again, we call on our local leaders to continue improving on our competitiveness, and on the ease of doing business in our localities, to encourage investments, innovation and entrepreneurial activity.” We shall soldier on in our pursuit for autonomy, emboldened by the support of our leaders and increasing awareness and involvement especially of our youth, Valera-Bernos urged. The integrity and heart with which our local chief executives have led us in this fight against COVID-19 have given us confidence to declare that we are ready to be an autonomous region, she declared, while sounding optimistic that “the manifesto of support and unity for the immediate enactment of the Organic Act establishing the Autonomous Region of Cordillera, signed by all our congressmen, is certainly a big leap towards achieving our goal.”
Gov. Valera-Bernos said, “we are certain that COVID-19 is not the last formidable adversary that we shall go up against, let us prepare ourselves to work with more challenges armed with Cordilleran courage, dignity and resilience, guided by our vision of an autonomous region where the benefits of development are enjoyed by all.” She further urged untiring efforts to support the national government, passionate in fighting for an Autonomous Region of Cordillera, and unwavering in working towards our long-term vision of “matatag, maginhawa, at panatag na buhay” for all Cordillerans by 2040.
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