By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — The Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), the largest alliance of indigenous peoples groups in the region with over 200 member organizations, points out that there is no clamor for autonomy from the grassroots at the moment.
CPA Secretary General Abigail Anongos reiterated that at present what the people of the Cordillera wants is a stop to the devastation of the region’s environment by destructive mining and human rights violations brought about by militarization. She further reiterated that the autonomy bill being pushed in congress does not answer the the pervading issues the Cordillera people are facing at present.
“Without genuine recognition of indigenous people’s rights like by addressing current issues of development aggression and militarization, as well as sufficient awareness and people’s empowerment; the present third attempt at Regional Autonomy in the Cordillera may again be rejected,” she said.
Anongos also stressed that genuine regional autonomy which is the practice of self determination must emanate from the grassroots.
She pointed out that autonomy is embodied in one of the early popular campaigns of CPA for “Regionalization and Beyond”.
She explained that Regionalization aimed to unite Cordillera communities that are inhabited mainly by indigenous peoples to form an integrated region that will relate with the national government for administration, planning and services. Beyond, she added, is for the long term goal for regional autonomy as the expression of self determination for the Cordillera indigenous people.
She said the Regionalization and Beyond campaign was widely supported by the grassroots and even by professionals on a nationwide scale and the result of which is the inclusion of the provision for regional autonomy in the 1987 Constitution.
Anongos, however, stressed that the struggle for genuine autonomy is not yet over. “The fight for genuine autonomy has been at core of the CPA, the organization’s name alone says it Cordillera Peoples Alliance for the Defense of Ancestral Domain and for Self-Determination,” she added.
Benguet Vice-Governor Cresencio Pacalso in a separate interview maintains that thorough consultations at the ground level should have been conducted before the crafting and filing of an autonomy bill in congress. He added that in this way the sentiments of the people would have been gathered and included in the crafting of the bill.
“The information and education campaign being conducted now discusses the contents of the autonomy bill filed in congress where we are not even sure if the bill will be passed. Even if we have comments of suggestions how can we now include it in the bill when it is already filed,” he pointed out.
Pacalso added that autonomy is good because it will give more freedom to Cordillerans in governance and in the management of their own region. He, however, gave stress for a more thorough and proper consultations among all stakeholders during its crafting. He said that if proper consultations were done prior to the filing of the bill then majority of the issues being raised now should have been answered. “Maybe there would have been a more united stand if the consultations were done properly,” he added.
Dr. J. Prospero De Vera, vice president for Public Affairs of the University of the Philippines, who was the guest speaker in the Cordillera and Development Forum last July 12 also pointed out that the autonomy bill should be crafted well for it to be able to work. He stressed that there are already lessons for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) experience, which he called “an experiment that failed”.
De Vera was part of the technical working group that helped in the crafting of the law that created ARMM. He was also among those who evaluated the ARMM set up.
Among his suggestions was to put in the bill a more distinct definition of autonomy. He explained that the definition of autonomy would be different among various groups and political structure. He highlighted that consensus building among all stakeholders is necessary to be able to come up with a distinct definition.
“Autonomy has been framed as a struggle for self determination, do we have now a stronger consensus on what is self determination?…How do you reconcile the central government’s push for the mining industry and the clamor for the preservation and protection of your resources?” he asked.
He also suggested more study on the political structure as he pointed out that retaining the present political structure and creating a new regional structure is inherently problematic. He added that there should be provisions in the bill that will ensure that the regional autonomous structure will not just be another bureaucratic layer in the country’s political structure. “Problems with horizontal and vertical integration has been experienced in ARMM,” he said.
He was also emphatic on the inclusion of provisions that would ensure resource generation and transfer saying that a huge funding is needed to be able to make the autonomous set up work. He further said that there should be provisions on the distribution of funds among the provinces. He added that the funds should not be distributed equally among the provinces it should be according to the need of the provinces. “Those who have less development should have more funds,” he said.
When asked by members of the CAR drafting committee to improve the autonomy bill draft, De Vera committed to help coursed through the University of the Philippines Baguio. # nordis.net