Cordillera autonomy once more with feelings

>> Sunday, July 16, 2017

Alfred P. Dizon

BAGUIO CITY – July being Cordillera Month is the time of the year when regional government officials up the “clamor” to make the region autonomous.  
But the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance, the biggest indigenous group in the Cordillera is silent on the matter. The CPA was in the frontline in moves to make the region autonomous during the Marcos regime when opposition to the then Chico River Dam project was opposed by the people particularly of Mountain Province and Kalinga.
The death of Kalinga tribal leader Mac-liing Dulag among other Cordillera martyrs at the hands of the military that time galvanized widespread opposition to the project. The people said the dam would destroy their livelihood and culture.
The New People’s Army also did its share of warfare to stop the dam by engaging government troops in combat. Later, the late Roman Catholic priest Conrado Balweg and some NPA members under the so-called Lumbaya Command broke out from the NPA saying they were not in sync anymore with the ideology of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
They made a pact with the Aquino government right after the Edsa Revolution saying they would lay down their arms as long as government grants autonomy to the Cordillera. The Mt. Data accord was signed between the CPLA and government and the Cordillera Administrative Region was born. Cordillera provinces separated from Regions 1 and 2 as a result and formed the CAR.  
Under the setup, the Cordillera Regional Assembly, Cordillera Executive Board and Cordillera Bodong Administration were created to prepare the region for autonomy.
Much had transpired since then and the three bodies were accused of being inept and corrupt that Congress later gave them an annual one peso budget. They had no recourse but to disband but according to former officials of the groups, the offices were not dissolved.            
Later, two organic acts for an autonomous region were not ratified by Cordillera constituents in plebiscites. This time a third one is in the works.
House Bill 5343 was filed by all Cordillera congressmen seeking establishment of an autonomous region in the Cordillera after being presented to members of the House committee on constitutional amendments.
Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan, who served as one of the resource persons during the hearing called for by the House committee on constitutional amendments in Manila two weeks ago, said he impressed upon congressmen the proposed Cordillera autonomy bill was an improvement of the autonomy law of Muslim Mindanao legislated over two decades ago.
He said in the case of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, regional line agencies were totally abolished and the autonomous regional government relied on meager subsidy of the national government to implement development projects and basic services to the people in the ARMM which defeated the purpose of achieving self-governance.
Under the proposed Cordillera autonomy bill, Domogan said regional line agencies will co-exist with the autonomous regional government and the regional government will simply exercise supervisory functions over said agencies.
He added regional line agencies that will co-exist with the regional government will implement programs which will be prioritized by the regional government instead of being tied up with standards of the national government.
For this year alone, he disclosed projects being implemented by line agencies in the region amount to over P28 billion. This, he said, will be an added boost to the region's development apart from the subsidy being provided by the national government and internal revenue allotment of local governments including their internally generated funds.
According to him, when the regional line agencies were abolished in the ARMM, the regional government had a difficult time apportioning the previous P12 billion annual subsidy being provided by the national government, which was later increased to P30 billion, for all its requirements.
Domogan said the thrust for Cordillera autonomy gained allies in the House after lawmakers were clarified on their queries in relation to government's thrust of shifting from the current presidential form to federal. He said the road map of the Regional Development Council in the Cordillera is autonomy towards federalism.
Balweg had been pushing federalism during his CPLA days. Was he right all along?
Anyhow, Domogan, a former congressman told the House committee enactment of the Cordillera autonomy bill into law is urgent. Once President Rodrigo R. Duterte will certify it as an urgent administration measure together with the Bangsamoro Basic Law of Mindanao which is now being reviewed by the Office of the President, it will be filed in Congress in the coming weeks.
 But would a third organic act be ratified by Cordillera constituents? Time will tell as some would like the CAR to remain as is even as left-leaning groups are saying, genuine regional autonomy can only be attained under a “genuine pro-people government.” 


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