Over a year of waiting for presidential intervention in the Cordillera region’s renewed quest for regional autonomy ended with flying colors Tuesday night. President Duterte granted the request of Cordillera leaders for the certification of House Bill (HB) 5343 as an urgent and priority administration bill during the meeting of the leaders with the President Tuesday night. This bill was filed by all seven Cordillera lawmakers seeking the creation of an autonomous region in the Cordillera. The efforts of all those who played various roles to make the President take this action only shows that when everybody works for a common objective, the overall goal could be achieved.
Our past leaders and various stakeholders tried their luck to seek the appropriate presidential intervention during the term of the previous administration but their efforts were futile. Their repeated appeal for audience with the former President fell on deaf ears because of the past administration’s failed priorities, thus, the initiative of former President Corazon C. Aquino to establish an autonomous region in the Cordillera was not sealed by his son, former President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.
President Duterte knows the country’s history and international geo-politics produced the unitary form of government we have now which centralizes decision-making to the national government. The Chief Executive expressed his support for the clamor of Cordillera leaders for the devolution of more powers of the central government to the local government units through the regional government, greater control of the regional resources, and equitable sharing of the country’s meagre resources. He knows local leaders and the people know better the local situation. While he supports the clamor to establish autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera, he warned the Cordillera leaders that the power of the national government for a single armed forces and the police cannot be devolved to the autonomous regional governments for the sake of the country’s internal and external security.
He was emphatic about the unequal pace of development between Metro Manila and the exterior regions of the country, like Mindanao and the Cordillera, as a result of the very centralized unitary form of government. The President even doubted the sincerity of the United States which colonized the country for over five decades. Instead of imposing a federal form of government like that of their own, they imposed the unitary form.
The certification of the President that the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the Cordillera autonomous region bill as two urgent priority administration measures is just the start of more work not only by our leaders but more our peoples. Let us remember that this third attempt of our region for regional autonomy could be the last because series of events are in the pipeline as priorities of the present administration. Although the President wants to make sure that the BBL and the autonomy bill of the Cordillera will be enacted prior to federalism, let us not forget that the provision of the 1987 Constitution providing for the establishment of autonomous regions in Mindanao and the Cordillera could actually be deleted when the fundamental law of the land is subjected to amendments.
The chances for the Cordillera to remain as one will be dimmed once the said constitutional provision will be scrapped in an amended Constitution. It is thus urgent for Cordillerans to set aside their differences and work for the autonomous region. We have already learned the ropes of governance from the three decades the Cordillera Administrative Region has existed. Let us be vocal about what we want of a future autonomous Cordillera instead of being reverted to other regions within a single federal state.
Many had been vocal about their objection to the proposed autonomy bill but they do not present concrete proposals to improve the existing proposed bill. Let us all be proactive and participate in autonomy-related activities from now on and forward recommendations for a better set-up of an autonomous region. Let us make sure that our vision is captured in the bill. Let us be vigilant that there is no watering down of our proposals.
Let us not allow the present and future generations of Cordillerans to experience the difficulties of being part of other regions. Let us provide them the opportunity to enjoy the advantages of governing themselves within an autonomous region by working for the establishment of the elusive autonomous region. Once the autonomy law is enacted that is not watered down, let us ratify it. Let us go for autonomy or end up scattered around the federal state of northern Luzon in the future.