All That Fits: Lessons in history


From media reports, the consultations called for by the Consultative Committee reviewing the 1987 Constitution were well attended, with a seeming united voice for Cordillera autonomy towards federalism.

The discourse on Cordillera autonomy is still a continuing debacle. The Cordillera mass movement remains critical of qualifying genuine regional autonomy in the framework of self-determination and the right to ancestral land. Lawmakers and politicians are more of the framework for structural autonomy (more positions in the bureaucracy, essentially) with corresponding increase in budgetary allocations. Several house bills were filed since 2011 for the creation of a Cordillera autonomous region but to no avail. The ConCom hearing this week in Baguio presents another opportunity to check our understanding and appreciation of self-determination and genuine regional autonomy.

Right to self-determination as response to repression

The right to self-determination is historically founded on the assertion of nations creating their own independent states and in asserting national sovereignty and territorial integrity. This was during the period of capitalism in Europe where original nation-states were formed. Self-determination has been a response to repression, inequality and self-determination. It is an assertion of a people’s collective human rights and identity against oppression.

Historical context is also important to understand self-determination’s application in the Cordillera, and we do this first by understanding how Cordillera indigenous peoples became national minorities—much thanks to William Henry Scott for explaining this. Prior to Spanish colonisation, there was no minority-majority dichotomy. For 300 years Spain effectively colonised the greater part of the archipelago, processually integrating former independent communities into the newly formed Filipino nation. There were communities—the Cordillera region in the north and the Moro, Lumad communities in the south—that remained largely unsubjugated througout the 300 years of Spanish colonial rule.

Now 300 years spelled a world of difference for the colonised majority and uncolonised minorities. It created more things in common among the majority colonised Filipinos while it made national minorities only at the peripheries of the changes that took place economically, politically and culturally throughout Spanish colonial rule, while they retained much of their indigenous traditions and institutions. This historical divide resulted to national oppression and discrimination to the national minorities. In turn, they asserted their ways of life, cultural integrity and identity against outside forces that sought to assimilate them into a wider oppressive system.

The right to self-determination covers a broad range of options, from secession (seceding outright from a state of national oppression and creating their own independent state), federation (joining a federation of states as one constituent and co-equal state), regional autonomy (constituting an autonomous political unit wherein it exercises self-rule within a broader nation-state) including special laws that recognise minority rights.

In the present comes the proposed shift to federal form of government, which can only happen if constitutional amendments take place. What we are saying is for the public to be more critical of the score behind this proposed shift to federalism. The best way is to look at the proposed changes to the 1987 Constitution to understand that the proposed charter change is summarised into institutionalising neoliberal economic policies, dictatorial powers to the regime and further eroding people’s rights. So it should be clear to us that this charter change proposal is beyond federalism.

Federalism by itself is not bad, and folks can cite the positive stature of several federalist states. What we are saying is IF federalism pushes through in the Philippines, the Cordillera region must remain intact as one region or federal state. I think we can agree even with the lawmakers and politicians on this score. But we will continue to discuss genuine regional autonomy, because it is not something granted out of a constitutional provision not withstanding that the Cordillera mass movement successfully lobbied for it years (decades) ago.

Substantiating genuine regional autonomy

So let us substantiate the framework and substance of Genuine Regional Autonomy for the Cordillera region. Firstly, it does not spring from a vacuum, as there is historical context. The essence of regional autonomy is self-governance for indigenous peoples culturally, politically, socially in a pace that they define, without external imposition.

For regional autonomy to be meaningful, it should address the distinct problem of indigenous peoples coined by the people’s movement as national oppression—the systematic violation of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and ancestral land rights by the State, ruling few and big businesses. It is further defined to be manifested in the following: violation of indigenous peoples’ prior rights to ancestral lands, through land grabbing, oppressive laws and extractive projects; political misrepresentation and the non-recognition of indigenous socio-political institutions and processes, commercialization and vulgarization of indigenous cultures, historical government neglect and institutionalised discrimination.

Therefore, genuine regional autonomy should address national oppression and give reality to self-determination, in the following:

1. Recognition of the Cordillera Peoples Ancestral land Rights and the Cordillera Ancestral Domain.

2. Recognition of the Cordillera people’s ancestral proprietary rights to the disposition, utilization, management and development of the land and resources.

3. Recognition of the right to economic prosperity and genuine social development.

4. Respect for the indigenous culture and the right to pursue cultural development.

5. Recognition of indigenous socio – political systems and political integrity as distinct peoples.

6. Protection of people’s rights and civil liberties from militarization and state repression.

7. Institutional rectification of national oppression through legislation and policies, curriculum on indigenous peoples education, and values formation on equality and non discrimination.

I would like to emphasize the point on people’s rights and civil liberties from militarisation and state repression. We are experiencing a state of calamity nationwise, in the sense that people’s rights are gravely under attack, political dissent is criminalised and human rights defenders are unjustly vilified as terrorists. Indigenous human rights activists face trumped-up charges from north to south. Communities are militarised and Mindanao remains under martial law.

We are saying this to draw out the point that regional autonomy for the Cordillera is meaningless if this situation remains and worsens. How about the Cordillera activists in the DOJ terror list? Will there be more deaths among dam activists, from Macliing Dulag to Ricardo Mayumi? How many more communities will be bombed after Malibcong? What are we expecting during the president’s SONA in July?

We are saying this to point out that constitutional amendments—in the pretext of federalism or not—will not bear essentially and change the people’s lives for the better if the fundamental problems of oppression remain.

Self-determination shall remain the recourse of indigenous peoples in such a situation, but for a world without exploitation and discrimination.

Much thanks to the papers written by Joanna Cariño and the late Benedict Solang for this piece to come through this week. Their papers on genuine regional autonomy, self-determination and national oppression should be required readings in Cordillera history subjects in universities. #


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