THERE was no incoming howler, but we woke up last September 13 to be told schools and government offices were closed. Somebody had petitioned it as a holiday, supposedly to allow the Cordillera to mark the 25th anniversary of the Mt. Data Peace Accord signed by then President Corazon Aquino and rebel priest Conrado Balweg.
Except for its being declared a holiday, there was hardly an event to mark whatever significance the anniversary may have. Except that a press release from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process announced the holding of a Conference of Tribal Leaders (Among Di Cordillera) and an open forum at the Mt. Data Hotel, the venue of the peace signing.
Good thing they did not have that gong travelling around the Cordillera again, as they do to mark Cordillera Day, or arrange a parade down Session Rd. where there’s nothing to see but participants in “barong,” as if you never saw anybody in that outfit before.
Many were suddenly happy over the instant holiday they did not understand but welcomed as a respite from school and office work.
In an exchange of tokens to mark the peace pact 25 years ago, then President Aquino handed Fr. Balweg an Armalite rifle and a rosary, while the rebel priest presented her with a wooden Igorot shield and a head ax.
“During the symbolic encounter, gongs were played and the uniformed combatants (of Balweg’s Cordillera People’s Liberation Army) rested their rifles and mimicked wild birds dancing,” recalled newsman Joel Arthur Tibaldo of the Cordillera News Agency.
Despite the holiday, most Cordillerans do not find significance in that peace pact. It’s because beyond the holiday proclamation nobody’s telling them what the day meant and should mean for this region’s struggle for autonomy and future. Like in many ceremonials, it was enough that it was declared a holiday in the Cordilllera, with or without the substance.
For sure, Fr. Balweg, who broke away from the New People’s to address the Cordillera issue from a native son’s perspective, saw it as a means to push self-rule in this mountainous region. Despite his push and those of others and the declaration of the holiday, the Cordillera today remains divided over the issue of autonomy.
Even the government regional directors, whose positions were created to push autonomy, are reluctant to advocate self-rule for which their lofty positions were set up.
Until now, even Baguio mayor Mauricio Domogan, a staunch advocate of autonomy, said he has not seen a copy of the agreement signed by President Aquino and Balweg.
“We should take on from the points agreed during the sipat but can somebody give us a copy of the agreement signed so we could proceed from there,” the mayor had said in several forums on self-rule.
Quoting Fernando Bahatan, a former director of the defunct Cordillera Executive Board, newsman Vincent Cabreza of the Philippine Daily Inquirer said “at the 1986 sipat, President Corazon Aquino was handed an outline of 26 demands that addressed “the Cordillera problem.”
For sure, Fr. Balweg signed the peace pact believing it would hasten his region’s quest for autonomy that would finally empower the Cordillera to develop its water, mineral, land and other resources for its own development and progress.
Most urgent and relevant today to the issue of local empowerment through autonomy is the relocation of the surviving small-scale mine workers in that fatal landslide in Itogon, Benguet. The municipal government can hardly find a relocation site as most lands are still under Benguet Corp. Despite having mined out Benguet’s gold,the mining firm holds on to the land which mineral wealth sustained it for years.
Comparing how the national government treats our region’s quest for self-rule to that of Mindanao, it seems the Cordillera is now being taken for granted for keeping true to the peace pact signed by Fr. Balweg and then President Aquino.
In the wake of the armed conflicts in Mindanao, the latest of which was the occupation and siege of Marawi, the national government seems bent on pushing the new autonomy bill for Mindanao, if only to advance the peace in a region where numerous peace pacts were previously signed and then violated.
Here in the Cordillera, there was only one peace pact, the one signed by the late Fr. Balweg and then President Aquino. True to that agreement, we, Cordillerans kept the peace. That should give us the edge and the right to demand from the national government its push for the Cordillera’s self-rule. After all, we kept the peace pact he signed with then President Aquino and Fr. Balweg 25 years ago in Mt. Data.
Otherwise, it might be relevant to go back to the pre-Mt. Data days for the national government to hear our plea. – e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for comments.