AFTER more than 3 decades, the provision of the 1987 Philippine Constitution establishing an Autonomous Region of the Cordillera has not become a reality. Today, we celebrate the 31st Cordillera Day, and it is opportune time to reflect on the state of our autonomy, which is very elusive.
There were two plebiscites that were already held, and both yielded negative results. The Organic Act that was supposed to establish the Autonomous Region of the Cordilleras was not ratified. Only Ifugao voted for the autonomy in the first plebiscite, while only Apayao voted YES in the second.
One of the reasons for the autonomy is for the development of the whole region, as the provinces and cities in the region will essentially share amongst each other their pooled incomes, and their needs will be appropriately identified and adequately provided by the regional government. This increases the chances that development will reach those in the rural areas.
Meanwhile, there are still so many areas in the region that are in poverty. As a matter of fact, Apayao is still in the list of the poorest provinces in the whole country. I am witness to this unfortunate conditions of many Cordillerans in many areas in the region.
I have travelled to many areas of the Cordilleras for work, for my advocacies and causes, or for leisure, and I have observed that there were very few significant developments that happened over the past several years. I have heard residents voice out their concerns on receiving virtually nothing from the government, and have had intimate conversations with many residents who live in those areas, and they feel that the government, except for the occasional small promises made and fulfilled by their local officials, seems very far from them and they can’t feel government support from where they are.
Towards the latter part of last year, President Duterte certified HB 5343, the bill seeking to establish the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera as urgent. Cordillera Congressmen had been working out the filing and passage of the bill since the President’s certification. They had set these to be completed until the early part of this year so the plebiscite can be held by the latter part of 2018, and so the budget for the autonomous government can be included in the 2019 national budget.
The gargantuan work that accompanies the plan of establishing 18 states all over the country and change of the system of government to Federalism may be hampering the autonomy moves. Although the President assured that the establishment of the autonomous region will not be affected by the Federalism move of the Duterte administration, and that the autonomy and federalism will co-exist, I cannot help but assume the prior because of the very noticeable aggressive campaigns by the proponents and allies of the President, and the very strong support from the top to make Federalism come to fruition, which can trigger skepticism of their agenda.
The Regional Development Council (RDC) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA-CAR) have conducted several information, education and communication (IEC) activities all over the CAR. However, there should be greater efforts to disseminate the correct information to the people of the Cordilleras so that they can properly decide on what they will vote for when the plebiscite is held. Somehow, there are other groups who also have agenda when the autonomy is established. These groups are more aggressive in disseminating information that are leaning towards their agenda. These can cloud the judgments of people, resulting to the failure of our bid to be finally autonomous.
I was expecting that this would mentioned during the SONA of President Duterte along with the BBL, but it was not. Your guess of what in store for the Cordillera Autonomy under this administration is as good as mine.