Almost three decades ago, the progressive people’s movement in the Cordillera was like a ‘John the Baptist crying in the forest’ prating about regionalization, kaigorotan, one Cordillera region, and then regional autonomy.
Regional Autonomy is now a popular Cordillera people’s aspiration. To the progressive movement, “it is the applicable political framework for strategic Cordillera development. As it underscores that Regional Autonomy must be understood in its full substance as the exercise of self determination. It is not just administrative decentralization or devolution of governance powers. Neither is it only about funds and projects. And it should not dismember the Cordillera’s integral character as one region of dominantly indigenous peoples. If it takes more time to unite on the essence of Regional Autonomy, then so be it, but we arrive there as one whole region.”
Members of the Regional Development Council (RDC) are now on an information education campaign on the working draft of the Third Organic Act. The bills seeking the establishment of the Autonomous Region in the Cordillera, House Bill No. 5595 and Senate Bill No. 3115, are actively being lobbied in the house and even being rushed. Also, governors and local officials of the region are now talking about the Cordillera Regional Autonomy and Development Project (CRADP).
The province of Benguet wants to ensure that its local resources, environment and natural resources are protected as these drive the economy and development of the province. It is particular about the income drawn from the national wealth tax from its natural resources like the operations of Ambuclao, Binga and the San Roque Dams, even the Electric Power Industry Reform Act and Renewable Energy Act.
Apayao governor says an autonomous region in the Cordilleras is an opportunity to improve the region “physically and develop economically” but “underscored the need for unity among the Cordillerans to realize the dreams and aspirations of forefathers and past leaders who sacrificed to achieve self-governance and sufficiency for the welfare of the future generations.”
On the other hand, several Cordillera representatives in Congress continuously stress the need for a wider information-education campaign and more consultation at the grassroots so that the people will understand the Organic Act. All sectors must take part in consultations and discussion. Congressman Manuel Agyao of Kalinga has “challenged all stakeholders especially the professionals, teachers, local officials, religious sectors, non-government organizations, the business sector, and several others to unite in educating and informing the people for the region to finally achieve its aspirations through autonomy.”
While the government sector recognizes the initial contribution of the progressive movement in the development, popularization or recognition of a Cordillera autonomous region as an expression of self determination, there are government sectors that continue with impunity to vilify, discriminate and punish these progressives — peoples organizations and communities — who assert their opinions, their right to information and their freedom to assembly. This has been clearly demonstrated to date, cases of the people of Mankayan, Bakun, Tublay and villages of Abra, Apayao and Ifugao when they petitioned against the entry of corporate mining, against militarization and the violation of their right to a free, prior, informed consent, and against attempts to cloak or tone down the communities’ vehement NO to mining in their ancestral domains.
Is this how the government offices profess to listen to the peoples issues? Is this the kind of invitation they give the people who must participate in the autonomous region or is it a ploy to cow the Cordillera peoples into receiving the watered down Organic Act?
Today, peoples’ voices demanding for an increase in the budget for education, public health, for legislated wages increase and tuition rollback are growing louder. But even if the people’s demands resonate loudly, the cries are falling on the deaf ears of the government as the policies that are implemented are those that serves the interest of the political elite. The same holds true when it comes to the Cordillera autonomous region. What are we to expect under this system and the house or senate version of an autonomous region? # nordis.net