WHO will be the leader(s) in the envisioned regional autonomous region of the Cordillera? What kind leaders will these be? What kind/model of autonomous region will we have? These are some of the questions raised when one sees regional autonomy in a big picture. Regional autonomy is self-governance and if I got it right from Professor Mastura, regional autonomy is "freeing one's self from the center" or something to that effect. The "self" here means the region while the center being "imperial Manila". Imperial Manila may refer to the fact that decisions, programs and development directions of national import are made by national leaderships and these affect us. Development aggression is a term coined for decisions and programs of national importance but continue to marginalize the minority, foremost of them are the indigenous peoples. Examples of development aggression are mega dams and large -scale mining funded usually by multinational companies. But now development aggression can include investments that need not be by multinational investors yet these investments by local companies divest IP communities from their ownership, control and management of natural resources in their ancestral territories. Even today, IP communities in the Cordillera continue to resist the entry of Filipino companies in their ancestral territories especially if the investment concerns control and management of natural resources. Regional autonomy is supposed to free us from development aggression in any form. Regional autonomy is self-empowerment and this is a BIG WORD.
No matter how big the word is, regional autonomy remains the vision of the Cordillera Administrative Region. At one point this column pointed-out that local politics had and continues to influence how the silent majority think, feel and regard regional autonomy for and in the Cordillera. The silent majority includes the rowdy drunkards who have their own commonsensical notion of what regional autonomy is for them as IPs. Regional autonomy was meant for in the very first place for the IPs in this part of the world.
Regional autonomy in whatever form is a socio-political-economic system. Again In the Cordillera politics continues to influence the movement of regional autonomy in the Cordillera. The politics of regional autonomy the Cordillera can not discount the roles of non-government organizations, armed groups and ideologies. Especially now that NGOs have moved from ideologies to focus to ethnicity. The IP has become the CENTER of the socio-political system of the Cordillera , not any more whether one is left-off or right -off center. And we are witnesses to this SHIFT TO THE IP. Being the indigene is THE IDENTITY and CENTER of programs and projects. It is not any more the organization one belongs to. Tradition and customary practices/laws are now the buzzwords of NGOs in the region. While the war between ideologies continue to be an issue of peace in the Cordillera, both "peaceniks" and the armed groups could not discount their being IPs and in how they deal with the issue of peace in the Cordillera.
PEACE was the centerpiece of the Mount Data talks between the Cory Government and the Cordillera People's Army led by the late Conrado Balweg. Now it is ethnicity together have become hallmarks in the Cordillera's search for a realistic regional autonomy. Any person wanting to lead in the envisioned autonomous region of/in the Cordillera can not disregard ethnicity and peace. In the envisioned autonomous region, peace is part of the environment and being IP is the identity.
Ethnicity or to be exact being the indigene will dictate leaderships in non-government organizations. Indigenous peoples will have learned to lead their organizations. Or that they have learned so by now. Only that they are not given the opportunities. This is part of the empowerment of the IPs in the GOVERNANCE in/of a regional government of an autonomous region in the Cordilleras. More than twenty years since Executive Order 220, most NGOs that mushroomed in the Cordillera were led by non-IPs. Have the IP Cordilleran not yet really learn the ropes to lead organizations which were put-up for his/her sake and his/her communities? Empowerment is simply giving-up the power which politics is all about. I don't know why I can't let go this "feeling of unease" when non-IPs start talking or worst convincing me to favor regional autonomy in the Cordillera as some are doing. It is just too disempowering.