Dacawi: Autonomy is from within

THE anemic push for Cordillera autonomy that is being left out in the cold, hardly warmed up from the ceremonial sacrifice of black pigs in front of the Baguio Convention Center each time we mark the anniversary of the creation of this administrative region.

The observance, if you can call it that, was not for autonomy. It served to mark President Cory Aquino’s signing on July 15, 1987 Executive Order 220 that created the administrative set-up we are still in 29 years after.

The administrative structure was supposed to be temporary, a tool to flesh out self-rule for a region which natural wealth was exploited in the name of national development that left behind the Cordillera as the resource base.

Twenty-nine years after it was installed, the temporary set-up remains. Within its early years, we rejected two autonomy charters and, thereafter, made the transition period almost permanent. We’re content with it, and our regional heads of the line agencies whose positions were created by E.O. 220 are secured in their comfort zones. While their positions were created basically so they can push for autonomy, it seems no one is serious in doing so, except clinging to their positions as regional director.

The reasons for rejection are legion – from lack of information to reluctant national support for and after the failed plebiscites. Some argue autonomy hardly worked in Mindanao, ergo it won’t also work here.

So forget autonomy. Given our collective amnesia, forget the National Government’s promise of annual subsidy running to millions of pesos should we opt for self-rule that support might only be amount in words, as were the annual subsidies mandated by law for Baguio in lieu of taxes the National Government was supposed to pay the city for the Mansion, executive, legislative and judiciary cottages here, including Camp John Hay. Let’s continue begging for the region’s share from national wealth and other taxes for the exploitation of the Cordillera’s resources that the national government collected and now and then conveniently forgot to remit to us.

Under the present set-up, we do have our own internal revenue allotments.
As these are based on area and population, which we hardly have compared to the other regions, we bloat the figures, as do the more developed regions. Like them, we try to develop our tourism potential, sometimes at the expense of culture and nature.

Like them, we try to open up to investors so they can continue developing the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon that we now and then proclaim to be. Our gold and minerals had been mined out for national development.

Sooner or later, we might soften up on the vote against investor extraction of what remains, given the new tack of “responsible mining” and the promise that, this time, our share from the national wealth would be delivered.

Within the administrative set-up, perhaps we can work out development for our own and realize what autonomy promised but we suspect can’t and won’t deliver should we change our mind. We can and should work on what remains, on what we still have, and flesh out a vision that transcends the nauseating self-proclamation that we are, indeed, the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon.

Aside from attracting tourists and investors, perhaps we can, on our own, follow what our investors are doing for us. Take the case of our own harnessing our water resources for electric power, vis-à-vis the existing ones and the bigger ones that conglomerates like Snap-Aboitiz are reviving. Perhaps our Cordillera non-government organizations or homeland “civil society” can help communities and local, native investors develop micro and mini-hydros that they can own forever.

Specifically, I’m referring to what Hungduan, the remote Ifugao town, did. It got a grant from Japan that harnessed power through the Hapao River, a big contributor to the Magat Dam. The power system is now collectively owned by the people who pay a minimal amount for its maintenance in lighting up all the town’s nine barangays.

It’s about the vision of self-reliance and self-empowerment laid down not in words written on poster but through action and ground work by Engr. Eusebius Halsema, the best mayor Baguio ever had. In the early 1920s, Halsema built the Asin Hydros that spurred Baguio’s development in the 1930s. Until now, these facilities are owned by the city he built, even as no city street is named to honor him for the enduring legacy he fleshed out.

Specifically, I’m referring to the effort of Tabuk, Kalinga to develop its own multi-purpose dam for electricity and irrigation water.

Specifically, I’m talking about the on-going move of the Benguet Electric Cooperative to develop its own mini-hydro in Buguias, Benguet. A village in Atok, Benguet is yearning to follow suit, if only technocrats and consultants from both government and private sector can provide technical and other means of support, like referring them to fund grant institutions and working out the permits that even well-established entities like Hedcor say it would take at the earliest, a year to obtain. .
The cue is the “One Town, One Product” or OTOP program espoused by former President Arroyo. Beyond reminding all and sundry that the Cordillera is the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon, the region can harness electric power as a one-region, one-product that its people can own and use for their own development, alongside the production of outside investors who, by their business immersion here, are telling us that we have the wealth of renewable resource.

The irony is that while the national government, through the National Water Resources Board, easily issued water rights to outside sources wanting to exploit our water resources, it does not consider our sentiments, as shown by the after0the-permit protests of our own people over new permits of outside business concerns to exploit our water resources at our own expense,

We may not have autonomy in form but we can achieve it in substance, even under an administrative set up. That’s a lesson from Baguio boy and Cordilleran, Dr. Juan Flavier, the author of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act that empowered us to take stock of what remains of our resources – even without an autonomy charter.

Even without a ritual pig to mark Indigenous Peoples Day, Week or Month every August.

After all, autonomy, like creativity and good governance, is from within. Its imagnaton and possibilities go beyond the symbolic travel of the gong from one province to the other everytime we are supposed to celebrate or observed Cordillera Day, which demands more than just the beating of gongs but real programs to show what autonomy or self-rule is for us beyond ceremony.

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