HB 5343: Imperfect but a step towards Cordillera autonomy

>> Thursday, August 3, 2017

Alfred P. Dizon

(Rocky Jake C. Ngalob, Cordillera regional information officer of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples writes this week’s column)
Regional autonomy is an expression of IP’s rights to self determination. One can’t have the former without recognizing the latter. If left unchecked, we risk our fellow IP’s in the Cordillera to once again endure the centuries long injustices bestowed upon them.
For centuries, blood, sweat and tears of our martyrs nourished the soil in Cordillera. They sacrificed their lives warding off imminent subjugation from colonizers. As a result, our customary political and social system structure are still alive, relevant and being practiced to this day.
One need not go beyond the borders of Cordillera and see how rich and genuine our customary practices are. But like any other achievement, this landmark which the Cordillerans have fought so hard to attain, was met with ridicule, disparagement and racial vilification from no less than our bureaucracy itself. Even now in a democratic society, our fellow IPs specifically Cordillerans are still marginalized.
We struggled and fought for this to be rectified. Provisions enshrined in our Constitution giving us privilege for regional autonomy are the fruits that sprouted from the blood, sweat and tears nourished soil of Cordillera. Said fruits are now ripe and ready to be harvested.
With the crafting of House Bill 5343, a tool intended to reap the fruits of our struggles for the realization of an autonomous region of Cordillera, we are now nearing the end of our arduous journey. The aroma from a bountiful harvest seems to build up with each passing day following the certification of the President of the said bill as priority legislation of Congress.
 But amidst our premature celebration, many are still sceptical on the said Bill. In a democratic society, where dissent is encouraged from a sovereign populace, HB 5343 was met with criticism from numerous detractors.
This only shows how thorough and how dyed-in-the-wool Cordillerans are in achieving what’s long due to them -- realization of our right to self -determination through regional autonomy. Cordillerans are perfectionists to say the least and rightfully they should be.  
 Being a concerned Cordilleran, regardless of what views one has, transition from marginalization towards our clamor for self-determination through autonomy has a process which we have to abide with. But we must remain vigilant over the fundamental principles and causes on which we must be unyielding.
Obviously, this is to imply indirectly that HB 5343 our tool towards self- determination, like any other great human forged document, is an imperfect document including our Constitution. But regardless, the road to autonomy is just a small step en route to achieving supposed dignified development.  
A possible Charter change towards federalism may push through in the succeeding years. We need to ask ourselves: What happens if federalism pushes through and Cordillera has yet to assert its privileges as provided for in the in the 1987 Constitution to be autonomous?
Thirty years have passed since the ratification of the 1987 Constitution; will the provisions granting us the choice to be autonomous be enshrined once again in the text of the new Constitution inside the new federal government? Considering that Cordillera is not yet a regular region, will the provinces of the Cordillera return to their original regions?
These questions may be construed as “scare tactics” employed by politicians championing regional autonomy in order to secure a “yes” vote from people. But unfortunate as it may seem, these questions are also realities of law that we need to consider. We don’t want to see ourselves kicking our backs when the opportunity passes and all remedies we should have taken already lapsed. 
The road that the House Bill 5343 will be going through is winding and rough like our national roads in Cordillera. A clear picture of difficulties imposed upon us by underdevelopment. Said document will not be the tool to cure all the centuries-old maladies that plagued Cordillerans. It is, however, a vehicle, carting a large part of our aspirations wherein it is up to us, the concerned and ever vigilant Cordillerans, to steer and navigate through the dangerous and bumpy road of political opportunism and ambition, cynicism and despair, ideological conflict and partisanship.
We have now taken our small step and though nearing, the journey that lies before us still seems as yet to have no end in sight. But it is important that we have already begun. It is equally important that we do not bow down in our struggle until the dream of the ages is realized.
House Bill 5343 has its imperfections which are not insoluble. The Autonomous Region of Cordillera which the bill hopes to erect, should it draw support from the idealistic concerned public and the rest of its citizens, can accomplish many things towards rectifying historical inequities.
Thirty years and two failed plebiscite have already passed; this could be our final chance to resolve the tragic cycle of poverty, conflict and repression that afflicted this beautiful land - a land that is unique and the only one that we will ever have. 

Our fight may have curled our backs to bow down but did not bend our heads. Our fight goes on, and our trophy cannot be more modest than reaping that which has always been rightfully ours.  


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