Domoguen: Why an autonomous governance structure in the Cordillera is beneficial to rural development

ONCE more, we sat and reviewed the best practices that evolved with the implementation of the Second Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resources Management Project (CHARMP2), last week.

These practices involved how project implementers and beneficiaries innovated on old and existing practices in development work to advance project goals and objectives. As best practices, these can be used by development workers in addressing development concerns of similar conditions in the country or elsewhere in the globe.

Last year, we reviewed several proposed practices but narrowed it to five. These involved the monitoring and evaluation of projects that were implemented in their localities by the Project’s implementing units, partner agencies and the beneficiaries themselves, participatory planning and project implementation, a green covenant in place of contracts in community reforestation and agroforestry, livelihood assistance fund, and educating farmers using the radio.

Crucial to the evolution of the practices is how the implementers understood the problem being addressed and why the innovation being introduced is the most appropriate solution. They do not implement templates like they are simply following orders. They are community workers.

For instance, the School-on-Air (SoA) is the oldest development practice included in the five best practices that will soon be published as part of the Project’s terminal report. It was previously published as part of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) documentation of innovations.

In my reckoning, the SoA was born more or less 70 years ago. In this internet age, what is new about SoA, and why use it to facilitate community learning?

In any organization and system, structure affects behavior that also affects development outcomes. In the highlands, it takes knowledge of the current governance, communication and information structure to be able to identify a strategy of extension education that is fitted to the terrain, the needs of the people, and addresses the complex problems associated to these concerns.

The Project identified SoA as a strategy of communicating and educating its public about the project, its goals, objectives, extension activities. However, pursuant to the participatory character of the Project, the traditional SoA implemented under the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its attached agencies would not work. It called for a number of innovations to fit the strategy into the Project’s operational structure and make it relevant and effective in addressing the needs of marginalized highland communities, the Project’s coverage areas.

The list of innovations done with the CHARMP2 SoA started with a participatory instead of the conventional “top-down approach” in preparing the course modules including its implementation processes and methods.

In addition to the weekly monitoring and evaluation of the course and its students, a practicum at the end of the course was done to gauge how enrollees practiced or employ the lessons they have learned through the SoA.

Aside from the SoA, the other practices showcase new things and advice on implementing rural development with the active participation of the beneficiaries who are conscious of their individual and communal stake under the CHARMP2’s interventions intended to improve their livelihoods and quality of living.

The CHARMP2 best practices and the outcomes generated can be grouped into the category of resilience, something we need more and more of in these times of increasing environmental, social, political, and personal trials especially in marginalized and challenging environments.

When you use radio to reach communities, otherwise not readily reached through the usual extension channels, and you educate your listeners by employing local leaders and trained experts, you help advance an overlooked but definitive facet of forming resilience. The same is true when you empower them to plan, monitor, and implement projects that address their development aspirations.

The CHARMP2 is a special project of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Executive Order (EO) 220 established the DA-CAR to help accelerate economic and social growth and development; and prepare the establishment of the autonomous region in the Cordillera (ARC). The regular and special projects of the DA in the region all contribute to the realization of this constitutional mandate in central North Luzon.

The good thing about special projects is that their operations can be likened to the army’s special operation units. They enjoy a measure of operational autonomy. They trail blaze and explore new ways of doing things, and their outcomes are used to reform and enliven the old.

The importance of autonomy in the development of challenged communities in the highlands is the need to build the people’s resilience even more.

People don’t always seek autonomy because it comes with accountability.

In marginalized communities, people need assistance these days from development institutions and organizations to be empowered and stand on their own feet. The roles of the CHARMP2 and DA-CAR are critical in empowering them to become accountable stewards of their resources, to each other and to the nation as a whole.

In capturing lessons learned, innovations and best practices in community development, an honest documenter would not fail to notice that resilient people embrace autonomy and the uncertainty that comes with it. Guided and empowered, the experiences of resilient men and women in the journey will give them opportunities to practice flexibility, to take risks, to work with others, to examine their actions, and to being or becoming good in leaving legacies of good practices.

Before and during the Spanish regime and extending to the American regime, communities in the Cordillera were autonomous. The people had their own self-governance indigenous systems that also mothered the evolution of good natural resource management practices and indigenous knowledge systems like the rice terraces, muyong, batangans, tayan, imong, and lapat, to name a few.

Community volunteerism with its many names and forms like the adoyunan and og-ogfo is deeply entrenched in the culture and traditions of the local folks. The Regalian government, its laws, its agents and their practices (the land and its resources are our property, and we rule over the people as practiced by political clans and ruling families in the lowlands) has done much to oppress and alienate the local folks from their roots and resources.

For this generation, the guest for autonomy for development in the Cordillera is well laid out under House Bill 5343. If the outputs of the CHARMP2 project can be an indication of what this autonomy can generate for the Cordilleran and the Filipino nation, as a whole, there is nothing to fear.

As resilient peoples, we can look ahead to the new experiences, healthy tensions and agreeable adversities that autonomy bring to its pursuit.

May it further feed resilience, pragmatism and possibility which are essential to mountain living and the sustenance of a healthy resource base, and progressive communities in North Luzon.


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