Cordillera moving forward or backward?

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On July 15, 2015, we will be celebrating the 28th founding anniversary of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) as a special temporary administrative region in preparation for autonomy which was the long overdue aspiration of our ancestors who fought for our independence. While we were called the former Mountain Province before, Republic Act (RA) 4695 popularly known as the Division Law divided the province into four independent province s which allowed each local governments to have its separate internal revenue allotment from the national government. Ironically, our unity and solidarity was once again broken following the issuance of Batas Pambasna (BP) Bilang 2 since Benguet and Mountain Province was mandated to join Region I while Ifugao and Kalinga-Apayao then was ordered to join Region II because of geographical locations.

After the 19886 EDSA Revolution, the government entered into a peace agreement with the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) thrugh the famous ‘sipat’ or Mout Data peace agreement on September 13, 19886. Part of the obligation of the national government under the said peace agreement signed between former Catholic rebel priest Conrado Balweg and former President Corazon C. Aquino is the supposed establishment of an autonomous region in the Cordillera. True to expectations, the government was able to partially comply with its commitment because it was able to include in the 1987 Philippine Constitution Article X, Sections 15 to 21 mandating the creation of autonomous regions in the Cordillera and Muslim Mindanao. It was followed by the issuance of Executive Order No. 220 on July 15, 1987 that gave birth to CAR when President Quirino was both exercising executive and legislative powers under the revolutionary government. The CAR had three purposes, particularly to administer the affairs of government in the region, to accelerate the socio-economic development of the region and prepare the region for autonomy.

As a result, RA 6766 was passed through the aid of the Cordillera Region Consultative Commission (CRCC) and the plebiscite for our first crack at autonomy was slated on January 30, 1990. However, Cordillerans overwhelmingly rejected the first autonomy law because even those who crafted it campaign against its ratification since Congress then muddled the issue and changed numerous provisions that watered down the law. We never stopped and on March 7, 1998, a plebiscite was scheduled for the ratification of RA 8438 but again we overwhelmingly rejected the second autonomy law because most people did not understand the largely improved contents of the law. Even multinational companies reportedly campaigned against its passage because they did not want to be under the control of the autonomous regional government. The plebiscite was also overtaken by election-related issues considering that it was the campaign period for the 1998 presidential elections coupled by the fact that the law was only signed by former President Fidel V. Ramos on December 31, 1997, thus, there was no adequate time to conduct the information and education campaign.

In 2006, the Cordillera Regional Development Council (RDC-CAR) adopted autonomy as its overarching agenda that resulted to the filing of the third Organic Act on December 11, 2011 and subsequently House Bill (HB) 4649 on June 11, 2014.

We are saddened by the fact that there are still a good number of Cordillerans who refuse to ‘see the light at the end of the tunnel’ in an autonomous set up simply because of their unfounded fears. It is also unfortunate that even the allies of the Aquino administration are the ones blocking the renewed pursuit for autonomy by misinforming the President about the true essence of self-governance which our ancestors have time and again fought for. If those who had been fighting autonomy were alive today, we believe the Aquino allies who continue to demonize him not to support the autonomy bid will have no chance of being elected by the people into public office. Allowing our parochial interests to prevail over the interest of the greater majority of the Cordillerans obviously illustrates their selfishness making them unfit for public service. Our failure to achieve self-rule at this time makes the Cordillera the least priority in the allocation of the country’s meager resources because we cannot qualify to the criteria of land area and population. Because the Cordillera has one of the least voting population, it is lagging behind in the priority of the distribution of substantial projects beneficial to socio-economic development.

It is high time that Cordillerans assert our constitutional right to achieve self-governance before we will be overtaken by events in the national scene. Let us open our minds and internalize the true essence of autonomy and not just go with the bandwagon simply because those against autonomy are our classmates, friends, relatives or professional opposition who never support advocacies for growth and development in the countryside. We have our individual and collective obligation to fulfill in order to achieve the aspirations of our ancestors for an independent region free from external restraints which are the major setbacks of development in the whole region.

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