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“As long as it is in the Constitution, we will pursue autonomy”, said advocate Joel Cervantes in his discussion on the region’s pursuit of regional self-determination with senior high school students. This is one of many information dissemination activities conducted in 2019 by the Cordillera Regional Development Council through the NEDA-CAR Social Preparation of CAR into an Autonomous Region (NEDA-SPCAR) program.
2019 marked a challenging year for the advocacy due to the change in leadership both at the local and regional level. However, efforts for awareness have increased with the program reaching over 21,884 individuals through various forums, consultations, and meetings. A key advocacy event was during the culmination of the 32nd Cordillera Month celebration hosted by the RDC Infrastructure Committee through DPHW-CAR and the province of Kalinga. Governor Ferdinand Tubban led the chief executives of the Cordillera in pledging their support to the continued pursuit of regional autonomy. Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong recognizes the sacrifices of those who came before and said, “we salute our forefathers for having started our region’s quest for autonomy several decades ago”. Particularly, he acknowledged the steps taken by his predecessor, Atty. Mauricio Domogan, in leading the renewed pursuit of regional autonomy.
The year culminated with the filing of the proposed Cordillera Organic Act as House Bill 5687 in the House of Representatives and as Senate Bill 1232 in the Senate. Authored by all CAR Congressmen, HB 5687 is a collaborative effort of the Cordillera representatives and the Regional Development Council through consultations with stakeholders in the region.
On December 12, RDC Chair and Abra Governor Joy Bernos challenged the CAR legislators to do their part in having the proposed Organic Act passed. Congressmen Solomon Chungalao of Ifugao, Maximo Dalog Jr. of Mountain Province, Allen Jesse Mangaoang of Kalinga, and Mark Go of Baguio City all accepted the challenge and assured the swift passage of the bill in the Lower House. Congressmen Joseph Bernos of Abra and Elias Bulut Jr. of Apayao, who were not able to attend the event had equally crucial roles in accelerating the drafting of the bill and gaining support for it among colleagues in Batasan, particularly Rep. Joey Salceda of the 2nd District of Albay.
Cordillera gained a new ally in the person of National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Ernesto Pernia who said that regional autonomy must be a reward for the Cordillera’s good economic growth while Presidential Adviser on Legislative Affairs Secretary Adelino Sitoy committed his office, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) to the pursuit of Cordillera autonomy which is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s vision of a decentralized national government through Federalism.
RDC-CAR Vice-Chair and NEDA-CAR Regional Director Milagros Rimando said hopes are higher for the passage of the proposed Organic Act. In 2020, the RDC through NEDA-CAR aims to continue grassroots information campaigns while strengthening national alliances towards the passage of the bills with the help of PLLO. Assistant Secretary Orville Ballitoc of PLLO also mentioned that his office is coordinating a follow-up to the 2017 Cordillera Leaders’ meeting with the President this year to reaffirm the region’s commitment to attain this Constitutional Mandate of autonomy.
The RDC-CAR roadmap for achieving autonomy indicates that the proposed Organic Act should be approved by 2020 with the plebiscite to be held in 2021.
By Marlo Lubguban
Illustration by Don Ray Ramos