An American’s view of Cordillera autonomy
For the third year running, any chance that the Philippine President would throw in a line or two for the autonomy campaign in this region in his State of the Nation Address never saw the light of day.
The President adverted to the peace process all right but it was obvious he was referring solely to the ARMM, “Sa lugar na matagal naging mukha ng mga mithiing ‘di maka-kamtan.”
Not a line on the proposed CAR autonomy set-up, by way of acknowledgement or by endorsement.
Perhaps whoever wrote the SONA did not wish to spoil it by inviting attention to an insignificant politico-driven autonomy campaign that lacked grassroots support. The less said about it, probably the better.
And as far as Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat is concerned, the SONA missed out on the country’s indigenous peoples by not mentioning any specific program on the IPs.
The disappointed solon said he had to work on educating government officials on the IP worldview, their situation, and their rights.
Incidentally, the book “The Making of the Igorot (Contours of Cordillera Consciousness)” by the American Gerard A. Finin devoted a section on Cordillera regional autonomy.
In it, he traced the origins of the autonomy movement to the legal opposition (against Martial Law) in the 1980s when regional congresses emerged asserting self-determination, indigenous rights, and the welfare of Cordillera national minorities.
According to Finin, it was in one such congress in 1984 that a proposal for the establishment of an autonomous region for the Cordillera first emerged and was defined:
“Regional autonomy shall mean the recognition of the Cordillera people’s distinction as one people. Their commonality in geography, history, traditions, and current situations dictates they be treated as one political body, as one region, in answer to their problems, needs and demands.”
Finin said that with a model of regional autonomy for Muslim Filipinos already present in the Southern Philippines, the highlanders’ call for the right to self-determination was seen as both natural and legitimate.
The proposal he said was to include the pre-1966 Mountain Province along with Abra with the campaign centered in the City of Baguio.
The campaign continued even after the Marcoses fled to Hawaii in 1986. Finin said that with President Cory Aquino in power, the players in the call for regional autonomy were to include the CPLA, the traditional politicians, and the Left, “as well as the various factions that each claimed to speak for the Cordillera people.”
In the interim, Aquino in 1987 signed Executive Order 220 that created the Cordillera Administrative Region even as the Philippine Constitution in the same year mandated the creation of the autonomous regions in Mindanao and the Cordillera “that was contingent upon approval by majority of the voters participating in a plebiscite.”
The 1990 plebiscite, he noted, was resoundingly defeated because many Cordillera residents, activists, and traditional politicians were skeptical about what real good autonomy would bring.
The author added while President Ramos kept the idea alive, “its push for approval of the proposed autonomous region focused heavily on winning the endorsements of elected officials.”
“Yet overall success in this regard may have ultimately undermined voters’ confidence in a new autonomous regional government to the extent that some Cordillera residents saw the move as one that would simply allow politicians to advance personal interests,” he continued. “Moreover, the experience with EO 220 and the administrative region strongly suggested that rural village leaders could have little real voice in the political process.”
He said the negative response of voters was in many cases based on confusion about the implications of autonomy, political considerations and fractious internal disputes among Cordillera organizations.
His conclusion: “In the end, usurpation of the regional autonomy movement by traditional politicians and confusion about its meaning undermined public support for such a promi-sing experiment.”