By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — Representatives of an indigenous peoples (IP) group and the Catholic church invited to the Senate’s regional consultation at the University of the Cordilleras on March 16 expressed their opposition to the proposed Charter change (Cha-cha).
Abigail Anongos, a member of the executive committee of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), said that among the pressing concerns of IPs include violations of their rights to their ancestral land and to self-determination, plunder of their resources and human rights violations.
Anongos said human rights violations against indigenous communities, human rights defenders and environmental activists worsened in the Cordillera since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016. She said CPA leaders and members fell victims to various forms of human rights violations that include trumped up charges, illegal searches, arrests and detention, political vilification, harassment, forced evacuation, bombings, sustained surveillance and extrajudicial killings among others.
“In the whole discourse on federalism: CPA remains firm in its position on Genuine Regional Autonomy (GRA), which is based on IP rights and human rights, on the inalienable right of self-determination of indigenous peoples to land, territory, culture and identity. GRA is the appropriate political form of Cordillera indigenous peoples’ right of self-determination, to freely determine our political status, our economic, social and cultural development, in a pace that we define,” Anongos said.
Anongos said that genuine autonomy addresses national oppression. She defined national oppression as the distinct problem of IPs manifested in “the violation of indigenous peoples’ prior rights to ancestral lands, political misrepresentation and the non-recognition of indigenous socio-political institutions and processes, commercialization and vulgarization of indigenous cultures, historical government neglect and institutionalized discrimination”.
“Then again, GRA is not possible under a dictatorial government beholden to foreign interests,” Anongos said.
She said that CPA pursues GRA by asserting Cordillera indigenous peoples’ collective rights to self-determination; and cumulatively build levels of empowerment through grassroots capacity building.
“Until such time that constraints for Genuine Regional Autonomy are overcome, or while we work towards GRA in the future; let us live with and nourish our achieved status as a Cordillera Region,” she said.
Anongos further said that if inevitable, the proposed federal form of government should uphold IPs rights to self governance and to chart their own development. She added that the Cordillera region should be kept intact and not be subsumed under a Luzon or North Luzon State.
Anongos called on IPs to be critical of federalism and charter change. “Will these address national oppression? Is there clamor for federalism or charter change at present?” she asked.
Anongos also encouraged everyone to “persevere in active discourse, as we do today towards our common aspiration for a prosperous, truly democratic and self-determining Cordillera and Philippine society”.
CPA was among the resource speakers invited for the Senate’s consultation. CPA is an alliance of 307 IP organizations.
Fr. Many Flores of the diocese of Baguio who was among the resource speakers raised the question whether Constitutional change is really the solution to the problem in the devolution of powers from the national government to the local governments. He also raised that changes in the Local Government Code could address problems of power and resource sharing between the national and local governments.
Flores reiterated that the 1987 Constitution was crafted “for the common good after years of dictatorship” to uphold human dignity and human rights.
Flores said that the problem is that the 1987 Constitution has not been fully implemented especially provisions on social justice and human rights.
“If the constitution is to be revised at all, the process should be to greater defense and protection of the mentioned moral values of human dignity and human rights, integrity and truth, participation and solidarity,” Flores said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said that the series of Senate consultations they are holding aims to determine if there is a clamor for Charter change and if there is what provisions should be changed and whether through Constitutional convention or Constitutional Assembly.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III observed that among the resource speakers four expressed their support to Constitutional changes and the other four are opposed. He also noted that the four who expressed support are local elected officials clamoring for more autonomous local governments.
Pimentel said that a shift to a federal form will allow structural changes to improve the sharing of powers, resources and responsibilities of the national and local government.
But Pimentel also said that if there is no “solidarity” among the Filipino people in pursuing a federal form of government then it would not be pursued yet. “Solidarity cannot be legislated,” he said. # nordis.net