5 principles of autonomy draft

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, May 11, 2012


TO SOME, reviving the push for autonomy in the Cordillera is like trying to whip a dead horse back to life. Over the past 25 years, the region rejected two charters for self-rule it had earlier clamored for so it could take stock of its resources and allow greater national government support for its own development.

After 25 years, the region seems content to manage its affairs under an administrative set-up that was supposed to be temporary, as a jumpstart towards autonomy. The Cordillera now appears comfortable as a regular region, like the rest that are given limited support from the national government based on their land area and population.

Autonomy was initiated to give the region greater freedom to manage its resources and allow it to receive greater support from the national government beyond the land area-cum-population formula that presently allows Pangasinan province to receive more than the Cordillera. Autonomy was to rectify the historical inequity inflicted on a mountain region which remains among the country’s poorest despite its substantial contribution to national progress through the exploitation of its rich gold, mineral, water, energy and other natural resources.

As borne out in studies in the aftermath, the rejection of the two previous autonomy laws was, in part, due to lack of interest in and knowledge of the issue. This triggered negative speculations on the nature, purpose and outcome of self-rule. Information dissemination was limited and questions already answered in the organic acts kept recurring. The said charters were like constitutions and by-laws that are seldom or never read.

So what’s in the third autonomy bill recently filed in Congress to justify its being read, discussed, strengthened, lobbied for passage and eventual adoption in a plebiscite?

The drafting of the current bill took into account issues overlooked or left unclear in the two previous charters that were rejected. As a result, five principles were laid down as guideposts in the crafting of the bill by a committee the Regional Development Council created for the purpose. The RDC likewise elected Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan as chair of the drafting committee. As such, it is also his duty to explain such principles, as he has been doing in forums and consultations on autonomy. These principles and subsidiary ones are presented here to sum up the spirit and intent of the draft organic act pending before Congress:

1. Establishment of a permanent Cordillera regional identity under an autonomous set-up to spur development of its local government units. As such, the autonomous region shall have jurisdiction over matters devolved to it: administrative organization; creation of sources of revenues; ancestral domain and natural resources; personal, family and property relations; regional urban and rural planning development; economic, social and tourism development; educational policies; preservation and development of cultural heritage; powers, functions and responsibilities now being exercised by the departments of the national government, except with respect to certain areas; patents, trademarks, trade names and copyrights; and such other matters for the promotion of the general welfare of the people of the region.

Except with respect to uranium, coal and petroleum, the exploration, development, enjoyment and use of natural resources found in the Cordillera shall be under the control, permission and supervision of the regional government upon due consultation.

The independence of each local government unit included in the regional government shall remain under an autonomy-within-autonomy set-up. This means the regional government shall pursue a policy of devolution of powers and functions whereby lower levels of government are entrusted with functions appropriate to them.

2. Non-diminution of existing benefits and powers being enjoyed under a regular administrative region. The powers and benefits of the region, including the different units within it (provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays) under the Cordillera Administrative Region shall not be diminished. They shall continue to exercise the powers granted them under the Local Government Code and other existing laws and shall continue receiving their Internal Revenue Allotments. This means nothing in this autonomy act shall be construed in any manner as to diminish the powers, functions and benefits already being exercised and enjoyed by the region and its local government units.
3. Continuous national budgetary allocation for regional agencies. National government-paid officials and employees will continue to be paid by the national government. The budgetary needs of the regional agencies where they belong shall continue to be provided by the national government. However, upon the organization of the autonomous region, the line agencies and offices of the national government shall be devolved to the regional government, with their budgetary allocations for personnel and operation continuously being provided by the national government.

Civil service employees shall not be laid off, dismissed or removed as a result of any reorganization attendant to the establishment of the Cordillera Autonomy Region, except for cause and after due process. All benefits of nationally paid employees shall not likewise be diminished or lessened by reason of the creation of a regional autonomous government.

The President of the Philippines shall exercise general and direct supervision over the Regional Autonomous Government and all local government units in the area of autonomy through the Regional Governor.

4. Additional annual subsidy from the national government over and above allotments and other benefits that are right now being enjoyed by the regional and local government units within it shall be released, suggested as follows: a) Ten billion pesos (P10,000,000,000) per year for the first five years; and b) Five billion pesos (P5,000,000,000) per year for the next five years.

5. Sustained national budgetary allocation. After the period of subsidy, the national government shall continue to provide sufficient budgetary allocation to the Autonomy Region and the local government units within it in order to ensure their financial stability and sustenance. Two or more of the following provinces and city whose electorate will adopt the organic act by majority vote will form the autonomous region: Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mt. Province and Baguio City.

On the issue of who is a Cordilleran, the pending autonomy bill adopts the following definition: A Filipino citizen who has at least one of the following qualifications: domiciled within the territory of the Cordillera Administrative Region; has lived in the region for at least two years; is married to a Cordilleran; born to Cordilleran parents; a full-blooded Igorot.

Such definition may not be as inclusive as some may want it to be. In the same token, the draft organic act may not encompass the full substance of autonomy. Still, it is a start that we all can build on. Anthropologist and Cordilleran Ike Picpican sums it up in these words that also address the “what if…” questions:

“It’s high-time for use to give autonomy a chance to show itself. Release this horse to the open so we can see its real color and character. It may turn out to be a winner, after all. Instead of dwelling on pessimism, let’s give the horse a try, believing in the good faith and wisdom of those who drafted the organic act for autonomy. As the rider, we can harness the horse, rein it in if it’s going wayward. If we ride it and it does not run well, then we can condemn it to the slaughterhouse, but not before we try it.”

(e-mail:mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments).

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on May 12, 2012.

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