Issue of September 15, 2019
Mt. Province
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Quest for autonomy still elusive after 33 years
by Hanna C. Lacsamana

NOT LOSING HOPE ON AUTONOMY -- Advocates for the long time quest for an autonomous region in the Cordillera are not losing hope the Duterte government will certify as urgent the proposed third Organic Act for self-rule in the highlands. Here, Mayor Gabino Ganggangan of Sadanga, Mountain Province reminded the younger generation of the importance of the Sept. 13, 1986 Mount Data peace accord that led to cessation of hostilities between the rebels and government forces up north during the administration of former president Corazon Aquino.  -- Redjie Cawis

The quest for the Cordillera’s self-rule will never end.

This is true at least for those who still believe in the quest for an autonomous Cordillera region that is still in the works 33 years after the signing of the Mt. Data sipat (peace agreement) between the government under former president Corazon Aquino and the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) on Sept. 13, 1986.

In a gathering on Sept. 12 to commemorate the 1986 peace agreement, former Cordillera Regional Development Council co-chair Dr. Virgilio Bautista said the desire to be autonomous will never end until Cordillerans attain it.

For him, there are many reasons for the region to continue the fight.

“Right now, we are still an administrative region, not a regular region. Therefore, another Presidential order can remove our existence, which will divide the Cordillera and be combined again with other regions,” he said.

Bautista said there is a need to bring back self-determination and governance to local government units, including the Cordillera, which it already had even before the Marcos dictatorship and as far back as before the country was colonized.

He added the Cordillera should get what is due its people, in terms of financial gains from its rich resources, which its people have been deprived of because its proceeds are controlled by the national government.

“It is high time that we come up with a comprehensive development plan that is designed by our own people, not something dictated by Metro Manila on us. We believed then and still believe now that we know better how to handle our local issues,” Bautista said.

For Mayor Gabino Ganggangan of Sadanga, Mountain Province, the issue that the national government and CPLA led by former rebel priest Conrado Balweg agreed to resolve was land ownership, and such clamor remains and is still valid – giving Cordillera indigenous peoples the right and power to use, decide, and manage their ancestral lands and resources.

“This is only possible if we are given a government of our own, a self-governing structure given the power over these resources and that to us can be achieved through autonomy,” said Ganggangan, who is among those present during the process that led to the peace negotiations, the signing of the sipat, and eventually during the issuance of Executive Order 220, which gave the green light for the region to prepare for an autonomous government.

Clarence Baguilat, former Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera director and a member of the autonomy speakers’ bureau, said the autonomy quest should continue because the 1987 Constitution grants the right for Cordillera to prepare, socially, politically, and economically to become autonomous.

All of them acknowledged that 33 years is indeed a long time to be pursuing and realizing the purpose for which the Mt. Data sipat took place and it may never be achieved unless Cordillerans unite.

“In 1990 and 1998 plebiscites, we rejected the call to become autonomous. Where is unity there, and why do we fail to achieve it even if we continuously talk about being united? Are we really one Cordillera? We even still talk about ourselves by ethnicity, and there lies the problem. Let us try to call ourselves being Cordillerans period, not as Kankana-eys, as Ibaloys, Ifugaos, and so on,” Baguilat said.

He observed there is where the Muslims are different, because despite also having different ethnic groups, they consider themselves as one and were eventually successful in gaining autonomy with the passage of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region Law.

Baguilat, as well as former Benguet vice governor Edna Tabanda who is now a private sector representative, agreed that Cordillerans should disengage political controversies from their minds or being lorded over by whoever will be elected officials for the regional assembly. Such body, if created eventually, will assure balanced representation of sectors and decision-making as a body.

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