>> Tuesday, March 27, 2012
By March Fianza
BAGUIO CITY -- A possible regionwide rejection of the third attempt to establish an autonomous region for the Cordillera is feared following the recent approval of the third autonomy draft that was approved in toto in “no less than five minutes” by the committee on local government in Congress last month.
This recent development persuaded Benguet leaders led by Rep. Ronald M. Cosalan and Gov. Nestor B. Fongwan, provincial board, municipal mayors and concerned citizens to meet a few days ago and strategize massive grassroots consultations to avert possible rejection.
Cosalan said he has written the committee in Congress to reconsider its move saying “the committee cannot just simply give five minutes to a bill that will affect the future life of hundreds of thousands of Cordillerans.”
A meeting was scheduled in Congress where amendments to HB 5595, the Cordillera Autonomy Act, may be inserted by Cosalan and Abra Rep. Joy Bernos before plenary discussion and final approval on the floor.
“Rep. Bernos and I stressed that we are not against autonomy or against the bill but we want to introduce amendments before any plenary discussion,” Cosalan added.
The Benguet capitol meeting chaired by Vice Gov. Crescencio C. Pacalso was attended by autonomy advocates Dr. Gil Bautista, co-chair of the Cordillera Regional Development Council and former Vice Gov. Edna C. Tabanda, RDC private sector representative.
Fongwan said he was thinking all along that the bill will be discussed in the committee level but was also surprised why it was approved en toto.
“Just like Cong. Cosalan, I also fear that the bill might be rejected again that is why I agree with him that we should put provisions advantageous to Benguet, consult the grassroots and not only a few, before it is put to a plebiscite,” Fongwan said.
For the provincial board members, they expressed the common observation that two past plebiscites overwhelmingly rejected the autonomy bills simply because the people have not read the provisions.
Some Benguet provincial and municipal officials in the meeting also gave parallel personal observation that based on their limited survey, if no widespread public consultation will be conducted, the bill will be rejected in Baguio City, Mt. Province, Abra, and even in Kalinga.
Asked about what would happen to the provinces that would not opt to join an autonomous region, Cosalan said, Section 163b that says the provinces that will vote unfavorably in the plebiscite will revert back to their mother regions, “serves as a threat to Cordillerans more than a uniting force.”
“I will introduce an amendment to that provision so that those who will not opt for autonomy can constitute a regular region. If that provision cannot be amended, I will file another bill to that effect to give a choice to Cordillerans,” Cosalan explained.
On the other hand, RDC co-chair Dr. Bautista who agreed that more grassroots consultations should be conducted said, the RDC chose regional autonomy as the more positive move that would boost development in the region because the Cordillera always received the smallest budget share from the national government.
“Budget allocation for the regions was always based on population. In addition, our priorities in the region were not being followed (by the national government),” Bautista informed the body, explaining further that development would be faster in a regional autonomous set up.
He clarified that the budgetary provision for P10B annual budget for the first five years and P5B annual budget allocation for the next five years were “not picked out of the blue.”
Cosalan meanwhile said, other regions would be affected and would surely complain if a big chunk of money will be cut from the national budget
But Bautista explained, “these are the same amounts allocated to the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). If Mindanao deserves P10bn annually from the national government, why don’t we deserve it?”