Bontoc, Mountain Province – The move to establish an autonomous region in the Cordilleras has gained the support of national and local officials.
Representatives from various sectors in the region joined their officials in a national conference in Quezon City recently to firm up the support of legislators in pushing for the approval of a bill seeking autonomy for the provinces of Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province including the chartered city of Baguio.
The bill was filed by all Cordillera House Representatives in June last year but has yet to be deliberated at the lower house given the indifference of the national leadership.
Senator Chiz Escudero who graced the affair made known his support saying that it is one of the ways by which the Cordillera will be given its fair share from the national government that will enhance the economic development of the region. “Nasa inyo po ang aking suporta kaugnay ng panukalang batas na naglilikha sa Cordillera Autonomous Region. Sa kasalukuyan, ang budget po na natatanggap ng Cordillera Autonomous Region, kabilang na ang lahat ng probinsya at siyudad diyan, kabilang ang Baguio City ay isa’t kalahating sentimo lamang sa kada piso na ginagastos ng gobyerno – 1.5 centavos for every peso that government is spending. Kung titignan po natin labing-walong rehiyon po ang Pilipinas, dapat 5.5% at least kung pantay nating tatratuhin ang bawat rehiyon ang budget at pondong napupunta dapat sa Cordillera,” Escudero said.
The senator added that the national leadership should have pushed the passage of the bill and not wait for the Cordillerans to make “noise”. “Hindi porke’t tahimik at hindi kayo nagsasalita sa Cordillera ay hindi na po kailangan at dapat bigyan ng pansin….. Hindi po porke’t walang nag-aaklas ng armas sa Cordillera ay pwede ng kalimutan ang pag nanais kaugnay ng self-determination. Hindi po porke’t sa Mindanao ay may nanggugulo ay uunahin na po sila at biglang kakalimutan na lamang ang pagnanais sa self-determination ng Cordillera,” Escudero stated in obvious reference to President Aquino’s aggressive lobbying for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat and Governor Dennis Habawel however said the late enactment of a third organic act could be a blessing in disguise for the Cordillera because lapses in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and discussions about the BBL will enrich inputs to the pending bill. “It could have been more disastrous if we passed the bill with many loopholes,” they echoed.
Baguio City Representative Nicasio Aliping of Baguio City who chairs the ad-hoc committee on drafting the organic act bared that consultations were already conducted around the region but inputs could always be accommodated to refine the draft.
Mountain Province Representative Maximo Dalog said that autonomy will be the first agenda of Cordillera lawmakers in the next congress explaining that their efforts will not see the light up to the end of their incumbency. As a strategy, he urged the electorate to make autonomy an issue in next year’s elections and vote for those sympathetic to the initiative.
Tadian Mayor Anthony Wooden reiterated the need to go down to the grassroots level and enlighten people about autonomy. “We lost two chances towards our goal so we should make sure to make it this time. But if it is a consolation, we failed twice because of misinformation. It is time to reach out to our people and explain to them the purpose and principles of regional autonomy,” Wooden suggested.
Contrary to what many people perceive, all ranking officials in the region have thrown their support for regional autonomy. All representatives of the congressional districts in the region affixed their signature as sponsors of the bill while all the six governors and the city mayor of Baguio have openly advocated for the passage of the legislative measure. “Never had been there a time when regional leaders were united. The problem is with the national leadership not with us”, Regional Peace and Order Council Chairperson Denis Habawel clarified. // Angel B. Baybay