What do Cordillera people think about autonomy? Attempts by officials to make the region autonomous was voted down in a plebiscite in Jan. 30, 1990 when the provinces of Kalinga-Apayao, Abra, Benguet, Mountain Province and the City of Baguio voted no with only Ifugao saying yes. The second attempt was also foiled with only Apayao voting yes on March 7, 1998.
What is autonomy? The people must have been right in their decision at the very first and second take. What chances do the third take give? Have the people become wiser, more informed, or they are already wise and informed in the very first place?
This politically hankered state of autonomy, I understand, refers to that state of being a free and independent region governing its economic, political and social life. If the Cordillera would become autonomous, would it be free from oppressive national policies?
Government laws give us a framework on how to exercise this seemingly lofty state of regional autonomy following the peace accord entered into between the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army led by Fr. Conrado Balweg in Sept. 13, 1987 and then Philippine President Corazon Aquino giving birth to Executive Order 220 which sets up a regional administrative body while preparing for a Cordillera regional autonomy.
This, following Section 15, Article 10 of the Constitution which provides an autonomous region in the Cordillera with “common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of the Constitution and the national sovereignty”.
With moves for an information drive on Cordillera regional autonomy purportedly being done, I am curious to see what attractive features an autonomous animal the Cordillera would be, otherwise, the P15 million info drive is just another futile attempt gone to kingdom never come.
I consider autonomously palatable the position of the late Fr.Balweg who pushed for a federal state of autonomy for the Cordillera. In a federal set up, the Cordillera people shall make their own laws, Constitution and policies yet still be a part of the national state.
What degree of autonomy will the Cordillera enjoy if it becomes autonomous according to what EO 220 will prepare? Will it be just the same setup where people will exercise their political, cultural and social affairs the way things are under the present laws and political structure? Or will there be a strikingly distinct set up where people can say they are autonomous?
Just what structure and laws will be created in order to make autonomy realized somehow? If there be a collective decision for example among Cordillera leaders, just how strong will this be as an autonomous policy? What measures are in place to make this so?
Where policies are concerned, can the envisioned autonomous region provide policies where it can go against a national law or policy? The Mining Act of 1995 for example was given judicial mandate by the Supreme Court when the application for Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement of a foreign mining firm in Mindanao legally upheld its constitutionality despite opposition from tribal B’laan communities.
Can the envisioned regional autonomy say no to a Supreme Court decision? Can it come up with its own judicial laws? What policies can the envisioned autonomy come up with and not being considered contrary but rather supplementary to national policies? On the other hand, national policies and practices are already in place for a semi-autonomous state. The Local Government Code already provides a system of devolution where LGUs could exercise some relatively autonomous control on generating taxes for one. Congressmen are in place to represent their respective provinces and people in Congress. Structures are already in place where LGU representatives can lobby for their share in income derived from the natural resources located in their own territories for one. Although it is another story when representatives and government officials cannot deliver.
Where the people in the region with more or less similar cultural and distinct culture could come up with their own policies about their own economic and political existence without the sword of Damocles hanging over their head, would be considered autonomous. Meanwhile, Baguio Rep. Mauricio Domogan and other political leaders are reportedly pressing the implementation of a permanent Cordillera administrative setup. This move may make some people push the Cordillera Regional Assembly and the Cordillera Executive Board as overseers of Cordillera affairs in the regional level. Just what happened to the former CRA and the CEB are things of the past which cannot be forgotten with a yearly P5 million budget cost of a lesson to draw from.
Creating a bloated policy-making structure “to articulate and harmonize the interests and aspirations of the people of the Cordilleras” was the supposed role of the Cordillera Regional Assembly composed of not more than 250 appointed from each municipality of the Cordillera, 10 from Baguio City, 18 representatives from NGOs and a tribal representative each is also a question.
Granting that these envisioned representatives have articulated and harmonized the aspirations of the Cordillera people, where shall these articulations be forwarded to? To the President? Congress? What sizable vote will these collective articulation bring to Congress or the Office of the President? How strong are these articulations in influencing national policy or when these challenge national policies? Is this the kind of self-rule that original proponents to Cordillera autonomy envisioned that EO 220 prepared for? How will Cordillera regional autonomous policy be in consonance to national policy-making? We maybe creating one bloated, overlapping body which is far out from original intentions of what self and autonomous rule means.
Another EO mandated body is the Cordillera Executive Board which is the implementing arm of the CAR is composed of 29 regular members of the board to name the Baguio city mayor, 5 governors, 6 from the Cordillera Bodong Administration, 12 from the different ethno-linguistic groups in the Cordillera, and 5 representatives from NGOs.
Under EO 220, the CEB is headed by an executive director appointed by the President. Aside from questions of criteria to membership, what difference will this implementing arm make from departments and offices currently doing envisioned functions. Where it is a matter of codifying laws for example, or “promotion of indigenous institutions and processes for conflict resolution and dispute settlement, preservation and enhancement of indigenous customs, traditions, languages and culture? Isn’t this the job of the National Commission on Indigenous People where it has its provincial branches? Where it is a matter of looking at agricultural development, there is also the Department of Agriculture who takes care of this, as well as health and tourism.
Seemingly, this bloated CAR body and its supposed functions are a repetition and overlapping of what the regular departmental offices are doing. Unless, this CAR body will do something distinctly independent to further policy for indigenous peoples rights will it become relevant. As talks go on about this third attempt for Cordillera autonomy, responsibility falls on the shoulders of the Regional Development Council to come up with real good, authentic, representative and people-based information of how and what true and genuine regional autonomy really means.
The people have become wise, I guess, and know if they are being taken for a ride or not and the third attempt may just become kaput. This P15 million budget might as well be de-programmed or re- aligned for livelihood support activities for the farming and struggling folks of the Cordillera .