Home Opinion Statement The people’s Cordillera Day strives for genuine regional autonomy

The people’s Cordillera Day strives for genuine regional autonomy



The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) takes this occasion as an opportunity to impart anew the People’s Cordillera Day, which CPA organized annually without fail for the past 33 years every April 24, with the active participation and solidarity of at least 4,000 to 6,000 indigenous peoples and advocates from the Cordillera provinces, other Philippine regions and overseas.

It is also an opportunity to tell the story, and the folly associated with the July 15 Cordillera Day of government, and thus clarify contexts without which incomplete information leads to revisions in Cordillera history.

April 24: The people’s Cordillera Day

The people’s Cordillera Day is April 24, the day ama Macliing Dulag, a respected pangat of Kalinga and one of the many leaders of the Bontok and Kalinga peoples opposition to the World Bank-funded Chico dams under the dictatorship of Marcos, was slain by State military, in the dead of the night on April 24, 1980, witnessed by his wife and village/tribal people in his own house in Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga. From 1981 to 1984, April 24 was commemorated as the Macli-ing Memorial.

The martyrdom of Ama Macliing strengthened and further galvanized the people’s solidarity, unity, and opposition to projects and programs that would destroy the ancestral land. In June 1984, a Cordillera Peoples Congress established the Cordillera Peoples Alliance for the Defense of the Ancestral Domain and for Self Determination.

From 1985 onwards, CPA led the annual commemoration and celebration of Cordillera Day, which has evolved into a mass movement event, tackling regional issues confronting the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera. To set the record straight, no other entity but the mass movement through CPA sustained the people’s Cordillera Day.

The people’s Cordillera Day on April 24 was borne out of the people’s struggle for self-determination. Thus, Cordillera Day on April 24 is embraced by the people, as it addresses their issues and has the weight of history, and continues to be a meaningful day for them. The people’s Cordillera Day is also the sustained pursuance for genuine social change and national democracy. In fact, the 33rd Cordillera Day this April 23-25 in Kalinga province bears the theme “Intensify the Struggle for Self-Determination, Defense of Ancestral Land, Life and Honor!”

The celebration on April 2014 resounded with success with the provincial celebrations in Abra and Ifugao, and a regional celebration in Guinaang, Pasil, Kalinga, guided by the central theme “Resist Imperialist Plunder of our Lands and Resources! Assert our Right to Self-Determination”.

One of the early and popular campaigns of the CPA was Regionalization and Beyond. First Regionalization was to unite the Cordillera highland mainly inhabited by indigenous peoples as an integrated region to relate as one with the national government for administration, planning and services. And Beyond was the long term goal for genuine regional autonomy (GRA) as the appropriate application of self-determination for the Cordillera region as mainly indigenous peoples. Until then, the Cordillera provinces were split into Region I (Abra, Mountain Province, Benguet,Baguio City) and Region II (Ifugao and the then Kalinga-Apayao). The Cordillera provinces were of course marginalized in the regions where they were located. This was part of divide, and rule and of perpetuating the historical neglect of the Cordillera. The broad multisector campaign for Regionalization and Beyond, was immensely popular with the grassroots and middle forces from local to national, including at the 1986 Constitutional Convention that CPA activists and advocates successfully lobbied for, thus the provision for regional autonomy in the present Constitution. With this context and history, the July 15, 1987 creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) by President Cory Aquino was merely the formality, or cake icing, on the realization of the popular objective for regionalization that CPA and advocates waged specifically since 1985. Regionalization of the Cordillera is an achievement indeed, with the key role of the progressive mass movement that did the ground work on information and education on Cordillera history, indigenous peoples’ rights and the right to self-determination and for regionalization of the Cordillera.

In its founding Congress, CPA defined regional autonomy as the appropriate form of self-determination for the Cordillera indigenous peoples, with full recognition and respect of indigenous peoples’ ancestral land, indigenous socio-political systems and culture as the material base for IPs identity and existence This essentially differs from mere local and structural autonomy embodied in the regional autonomy proposed by traditional politicians as in the present 3rd draft now making the rounds of consultations in the provinces.

The CPA maintains its position to reject bogus regional autonomy, as it did with the rejection of the first two attempts in 1990 and in 1998, because these were bogus. Any attempt at regional autonomy in the Cordillera without genuine recognition of indigenous people’s rights like addressing current issues of development aggression and militarization, including sufficient awareness and people’s empowerment is bogus, and may again be rejected by the people.

In case of the imposition of any form of bogus regional autonomy, CPA will continue its awareness, organizing, and advocacy towards future realization of genuine regional autonomy. If the plebiscite pushed through in 2016, CPA would have again campaigned for the rejection of HB 4649 and to vote ‘no’. Such imposition in this prevailing national political set up will not benefit the Cordillera people, as in the experience of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Executive Order 220 and the CPLA

How then did government come up with a “Cordillera Day” on July 15? Another story must be told. July 15, 1987 marks the day Executive Order 220 was issued under the Cory Aquino administration for the creation of a Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) as it is now. From the Cory Aquino government and the paramilitary Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA)’s vantage point, it is a result of the September 13, 1986 so-called peacepact or sipat between the Aquino regime and the CPLA. With the so-called “Mt. Data Peace Accord”, the Cory Aquino regime embraced the paramilitary CPLA, and turned its back on the CPA and the mass movement in the Cordillera who were Cory Aquino allies in the fight against the Marcos Dictatorship and in the 1986 elections that put Cory Aquino in power. The much publicized “Peace Accord” has long been exposed as a sham, as only binodngan tribes engage in sipat. CPLA then harassed and even murdered CPA officers and members, yet the Cory Aquino regime turned a blind eye. CPLA is responsible for various human rights violations in the region, including extrajudicial killing of CPA’s leaders and members, namely Ama Daniel Ngayaan of Tanglag, Lubuagan, Kalinga and Romy Gardo of Abra. The CPLA publicly admitted responsibility for Ama Ngayaan’s death, but instead of punishing CPLA, the Cory Aquino administration coddled and made them kingpins in the region. These were difficult times for the CPA and the mass movement in the Cordillera, as the Cory Aquino regime also unleashed its total war policy with Oplan Lambat Bitag, that harassed and victimized grassroots organizations and activists. All these are an insult and mockery of the history and aspiration of Cordillera indigenous peoples’ struggle for self-determination.

Back to EO 220 that is celebrated on July 15, it institutionalized CPLA bodies and key people in the structures created by EO 220 such as the Cordillera Regional assembly (CRA), Cordillera Executive Board (CEB), and Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBAD). In 2000, Congress abolished the CEB, CRA and CBAd for their utter failure to implement their mandate as transitory bodies and because it was all a waste of money/The shameless opportunism of the Cory Aquino Regime and the CPLA is already history and merits frequent retelling for the education of younger generations. Foremost to learn from this should have been ex Pres. Benigno Aquino III.

But under the younger Aquino’s regime, privileges were again given to CPLA with the issuance of EO 49 and the MOA entered into by government through the Office of the President on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and CPLA. Through EO 49, CPLA was “converted” into a socio-economic group with the power again to dispense projects. An initial budget was provided in 2011 amounting to P200M. The CPLA was never made accountable for its human rights violations in the Cordillera, and now they are pampered with millions of project funds.In the light of the national pork barrel scam, the CPLA was among those that received funds through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which is part of the presidential pork. Obviously, the last Aquino regime did not learn from history.

At the moment, government must scrap EO 220 and declare CAR a regular region as in others, while the long process and struggle takes place for genuine regional autonomy. Genuine regional autonomy is the practice of self-determination and must emanate from the grassroots, given present constraints to this aspiration that we have. The process cannot be rushed or dictated, it will certainly take time, if we are to seriously carry out people’s participation and empowerment and there is no substitute for such a process.

Meanwhile, government declared July 15 a holiday and celebrates its own version of “Cordillera Day”, which looks more like an attempt to further confuse the people. Let us celebrate the People’s Cordillera Day this April 24, and celebrate the victories in our struggle for Genuine Regional Autonomy! #nordis.net

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