Tibaldo: 31 years of quest for Cordillera autonomy

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IT SEEMS not too long ago when we were motoring to different villages in the Cordillera conducting information campaigns for the autonomous concept of governance being waged by the national government and newly created consultative bodies.

We were newbies tasked to spearhead a wide reaching information campaign within the territorial bounds including contiguous areas like Cervantes of Ilocos and Kayapa of Cagayan Valley. We then conducted what we termed as “inter-personal communication” through a practice common in the uplands like the “tongtongan,” “happitan” and other informal means of public discussions just to ventilate the autonomy concept and understand local perceptions.

Tribal folks and opinion leaders normally discuss matters concerning the village around the dap-ay or under a huge tree called Patpatayan and we tried to adapt to these practices.

The preparation of food and butchering of animals became a common practice in most of our sorties as participants walked from far flung villages and crossed rivers just to attend those series of consultations.

Sent by our Manila office and tasked to head the new Philippine Information Agency office under the Cordillera Administrative Region, my wife Helen tried hard to embrace the customary practices learning the ropes until we tied the knot literally speaking making her officially a Cordilleran.

In those information campaigns, we reached places like Sta. Praxedes of Cagayan and Alilem and Cervantes of Ilocos Sur with the Cordillera Regional Consultative Commission tasked group as PIA involved members of the print and broadcast media like my cousin Bobby Angel, George Pawid and Jong Okubo among others who were practically sent out to spread to news about a thing called “itonomi.”

As I join the so-called Cordillera Nation in celebrating the 31st Cordillera Day, I recall my first entry to the halls of Malacanang when I covered the signing of the executive order known as EO 220 by then President Corazon Aquino on that historic day of July 15, 1987. Said order is meant to prepare both Muslim Mindanao and Cordillera region for an autonomous form of governance subject to the ratification and general acceptance of the populace but we failed in two plebiscites while the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was created.

I attended the arrival of the Cordillera Unity Gong in Baguio formally received by Mayor Mauricio Domogan on its 2nd to the last leg before proceeding to Lagawe, Ifugao for the grand 31st CAR Anniversary celebration with RDC and Cordillera officials.

I met few of the people whom I have spent memorable days with like retired educator Dr. Paulina Sawadan or “Ambay” from Abra who vividly recalls our tragic ordeal in 1987 when our contingent were ambushed in Baay-Licuan by the the New People’s Army leaving eight members of the original Cordillera People's Liberation Army dead.

The delegation head and host of the Cordillera Day celebration, Governor Pedro Mayam-o is himself not new to the quest for regional autonomy as he too was part of the group or so-called Cordillera bodies that advocated for autonomy from the very start. After Baguio, the governor accompanied the delegation to Benguet province and completed the gong relay from and back to his province.

I joined my wife to Ifugao passing through the now improved Benguet-Viscaya Road seeing new officials and well-wishers who, like me, are hopeful that we will soon attain the much awaited charter that was promised to bring prosperity and growth to the region. The CAR@31 celebrations in Lagawe, Ifugao was quite festive with all the delegations coming from the other Cordillera provinces however, I can't help but recall the days when we were with stalwart proponents with the likes of Felino Chaluyan, Fernando Bahatan, Patricio Guyguyon and Abrino Aydinan among others.

Now that I am with the Department of Trade and Industry, the agency that arranged a mini-trade fair and set up a coffee pavilion at the celebration venue, I felt like Vency Bulayungan the event emcee when she told me that she misses being with PIA as we used to work together in the same agency.

I also met Benguet former Vice-Governor Wasing Sacla who I recently encountered as a coffee grower and Jenny Avelino who was with our delegation to ARMM in 1997 when we observed how our Muslim counterpart was administering their autonomous form of governance. My recent selfie images with them using a smartphone brings back old memories and may it also refresh and reinvigorate an old aspiration that is now paired with the concept of federalism by the present administration.

Robert Domoguen, my fellow Sunstar Baguio columnist and ageing public information officer handed me a bottle of rice wine during the celebrations and as I filled my paper cup, I said a little prayer invoking the constant intervention of the Great Kabunyan as the region pushes to attain an old dream.

I’ve been wearing a multi-pocketed vest since the mid-80s as a newsman-public information officer as I needed a functional outfit that can hold cameras, flash units, batteries and even flashlights and snacks in case we get stranded in the course of my work as chronicker.

At 57 and having kept track of Cordillera’s quest for genuine regional autonomy, I still cover events wearing the same vest but with lesser loads as the item earlier mentioned are lumped into one gadget called smartphone. As I opt to wear aprons instead of a newsman's in my next engagement as a painter, I look forward to painting landscapes and murals depicting a mountain region with pristine forests and rivers with a peace loving community that value their customs and traditions.


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