by Hanna C. Lacsamana
All Cordillera legislators expressed support to House Bill 5343, or “An Act Establishing the Autonomous Region for the Cordillera (ARC),” which was filed during the first session of the 17th Congress to pursue the region’s renewed bid for autonomy.
The bill, filed by Baguio Rep. Marquez O. Go on March 20, was signed by Reps. Teddy B. Baguilat, Jr. of Ifugao, Joseph S. Bernos of Abra, Eleanor Bulut-Begtang of Apayao, Ronald M. Cosalan of Benguet, Maximo B. Dalog of Mountain Province, and Allen Jesse C. Mangaoang of Kalinga.
The bill was also filed after series of consultations among stakeholders led by the National Economic Development Authority-Cordillera.
HB 5343 is an improved version of HB 4649 filed in the 16th Congress, and is considered as a preparatory step towards the transition into federal government being prioritized by the Duterte administration.
NEDA-CAR said HB 5343 provides for the establishment of an ARC as compared to HB 4649, which carried the old CAR acronym. The previous proposed measure was subjected to region-wide public hearings by the Lower House Committee on Local Government, and was approved by the same on Feb. 1, 2016.
The bill has 175 sections and 19 articles as compared to the previous HB 4649 with 173 sections and 17 articles.
Among the changes adopted are the titling of sections, identification of the powers to be devolved to the regional government, deletion of the option of provinces/city not voting in favor of the organic act to join the ARC through petition, emphasis on the primacy of the organic act over other national laws, and expansion of policies on mining.
The three-year RDC autonomy roadmap hopes that HB 5343 will be ratified in a plebiscite to establish the ARC by 2019, NEDA-CAR added.
Despite divisions in Congress, Go, said in an interview on Wednesday that the region is banking on the firm support of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Sec. Jesus Dureza, who promised to convince Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to consider the bill as urgent. Duterte expressed his support for Cordillera’s autonomy bid as it is mandated by the 1987 Constitution during his visit to Baguio on March 11.
Go said if the Cordillera becomes an autonomous region, it will have more leverage in becoming an independent state, along with other states that will be established under the federal form of government.
He added that despite the revisions, the region’s request for financial support from the national government remains. To support its regional development, the ARC asks P75 billion on the first year, P10M for next five years, and another P5M for each year for the next five years, which will be among the things that will be tackled in the House Committee of Appropriations.