I am an Igorot, a Filipino, an earthling. My ethnicity may have made me different, but so does yours and the others out there. Our disparities may be glaring at times, however, if we look through our heart, we will notice our commonality as human beings.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cordillera Autonomy

The death of Cory Aquino renewed the talk of Cordillera Autonomy. In the local newspapers and radio stations and in the world wide web, the pro and anti autonomy are trying to score a point against each other.

It was President Aquino who signed E.O. No. 220 of 1987 which established the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). The executive order was issued after almost a year negotiation with the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA) of Fr. Conrado Balweg and the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA). The order is also the first concrete move to follow the 1987 Philippine Constitution's mandate of creation of an autonomous region in the Cordillera. The administrative region is to pave the way for the region's autonomy. (Click here to read more about the creation of CAR.)

More than two decades (22 years to be exact) after CAR was created, Cordillera autonomy is yet to be realized. Two organic acts (Republic Acts 6766 and 8438) have been voted upon but both were rejected outright. Almost all of the major people involved in the negotiations have passed away but the Igorots are still adamant to pass a Cordillera autonomy law.

What do the rejection of Republic Acts 6766 and 8438 really mean? Don't those bills reflect what the Cordilleran community really want?

The two bills rejected in the plebiscites have all that an autonomous region needs to exist - agencies to govern the affairs of the region, freedom for the constituents to do what they think is best for themselves, and fund from the national government for the region's operation. Still, there are those who claimed that the autonomy bills contain nothing of real autonomy and full of national government's continuous control. Indeed, an autonomous region is still subject to some national laws and operation and many things will still be under the whims of the President.

But is it just the content of the bills that are being rejected here?

It can not be denied that those who initially worked for the autonomy are individuals and/or organizations deeply associated with the communist party of the Philippines (CPP) and it's armed group New People's Army (NPA). Though CPLA have bolted out from its mother group and the CBA severed its tie with the leftists, to ordinary Igorots, these groups are still people with different ideology who employ armed means to achieve their goals. To Igorots who have to move from their homes and leave their precious lands to evade military and rebel assaults, the CPLA and CBA and whatever they are campaigning for will do more harm than good. To those who suffered losses from being suspected as government and/or leftist supporters, these groups spell terror just like the government they have been criticizing and fighting. The untoward feelings against these two organization may have dissipated but to some, the impressions of the past is not easy to let go.

It can not also be denied that some who are working for the region's autonomy are traditional politicians. Given the infamous connotations given to such group of people, it is but normal to question the real reasons why others are trying to move mountains for the elusive autonomy.

With the rejection of the autonomous bills and the unwavering negative reactions on the move to pursue such goal, one can't help to ask if it's autonomy that the Cordillerans really want.

For what is autonomy to a common Igorot?

For what is having a full control over your ancestral domain when it will be your own people who will be exploiting your natural resources?

For what is making your own laws and regulations when law and justice will be selectively implemented?

For what is living in an autonomous region when you are groping in poverty and misery?

With the concept of devolution, regionalization and protection of indigenous people's right trickling in the national consciousness, it is but proper to ask again if the Cordillera region really needs an autonomy.

Suggested Further Readings:
Domogan Still Bats For Regional Autonomy
Cordillera Autonomy: Looking Around and Farther Back
Regional autonomy once more with feelings
Elusive Cordillera Autonomy
Cordillera Ponders Future of Autonomy

Cordillera: Still not autonomous after 21 years of preparation