Saving peace and development efforts

>> Wednesday, July 19, 2017

by March Fianza

Thirty years ago, the Cordillera provinces divorced from Region 01 that was predominated by the bigger and more populated districts of Pangasinan and the Ilocos provinces. Today, the six mountain provinces and two cities will again celebrate their oneness into a single administrative region. The provinces of the Cordillera have gone a long way, each moving forward in its own way in terms of economic growth and infrastructure development.  
The grounds for separating were based on cultural identity and economics. Apart from expounding to the framers of the 1987 Constitution that the tribal groups from the different mountain provinces have commonalities in ways of life, Cordillera leaders then felt the people from the mountainous region were second class citizens to their counterparts in the lowland regions since they were unfairly being provided their equal share from the national government. For these reasons, the Cordillera got the mindset to regionalize.
Fast forward from 30 years to the present, the sentiment is to save the peace and development efforts of past and present government officials who, even while they knew that regional autonomy is not that easy to attain, performed their mandate to see to it that the growth rate of their districts were at par or even faster than those areas with closer ties to the central government.  
On the sides, there were scattered efforts to scuttle the peace that was achieved through the years of existence under a special region. Aside from insurgency, the factors that delayed in many ways the realization of regional autonomy came from people in government and some organizations who claimed roles in the creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region.
Executive Order 220 created the Cordillera bodies such as the Cordillera Executive Board, Cordillera Bodong Administration that were supposed to act as Regional Development Council and prepare the region for autonomy, and the Cordillera Regional Assembly that was tasked to submit resolutions for the CEB to implement. But the bodies had too many disagreements and did not see eye to eye. Since they were no longer helpful, and with congress looking at their existence as a waste of people’s taxes, the next thing was to make them defunct by allotting them a budget of One Peso in the General Appropriations Act of 2001. That led to their demise.
Meanwhile, the Cordillera provinces continued to exist with sufficient budgets approved by congress. The Cordillera region is not that poor after all, depending on how resourceful its officials are. For example, the region implemented more or less P12 Billion worth of public works projects in 2016 on top of the regular infrastructure funds allocated for some regional line agencies in the Cordillera. Benguet received the biggest outlay among the six provinces in the Cordillera with P2.8B followed by Apayao at P2.1B last year. The infrastructure fund for the region that year was bigger than the proposed regional funding for the proposed Cordillera autonomous region.
Under the proposed funding for autonomy, the region will receive an annual subsidy of P10B from the national government for the first five years and P5B annually for the next five years, in addition to national wealth taxes and Internal Revenue Allotments for local government units.    
By the way, for next year Congressman Ronald M. Cosalan of Benguet said the DPWH in the province will still have the biggest proposed budget at P3Billion which when approved will certainly improve the quality of life of people, especially in the rural areas.
Compared to the peace efforts and development gained by the Cordillera in its 30 years of existence as an administrative region, Mindanao has yet to attain peace even while it already spent billions of pesos on government operation after it chose to exist for 27 years as an autonomous region. During its operation, there were reports of several ghost projects, and even the failure of the ARMM government to remit monthly government employees' contributions to the GSIS.
There were roads that were reported as built but there were no roads. School buildings were allegedly constructed but where are the school buildings? At least, those things were not reported in the Cordillera even while we have yet to become autonomous.
The letdown of autonomy in Muslim Mindanao may not be blamed alone on the failures of ARMM politicians but also to the failures of national government. One, ARMM depended heavily on national appropriations that it was looked down by national politicians as an ordinary line agency that has to fight for its budgetary allocation. This is a lesson that has to be in the minds of the proponents of Cordillera autonomy.  
Second, election results in ARMM are determined by traditional warlords and politicians who use the 3Gs – guns, goons and gold. Real election in ARMM does not happen because of the prevalence of massive electoral fraud and corruption. At least and except for some parts of the Cordillera region, the use of the 3Gs in elections is not widespread.
But there are also failures attributed to the national government that is why for some, autonomy is hard to attain. Take for example the latest move by the Deputy Exec. Sec. who asked the Philippine Information Agency office to relocate somewhere just because the building at Lualhati has to be renovated for the use of the Exec. Sec. who needs an easy access to the Mansion House across the road.
This acts by Malacanang officials are precursors that the powers in the central government do not care about the sentiments of people in the Cordillera. Imagine just a few Malacanang officials taking over a building to be used for anything which only disrupts government operation and disadvantages public service. For easy access to work, the ES can occupy any of the houses or rooms inside the Mansion House compound. He can also easily avail himself of a big workroom at the Camp John Hay or Baguio Country Club. They are safer in those hotels and can stay 


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