An economic growth rate better than the national average and being one of the safest regions in the country are among the five major accomplishments the Cordillera has achieved as Pres. Rodrigo Duterte steps into the fifth year of his administration.
Agriculture Sec. William Dar, the Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security in the Cordillera, reported from 2017 to 2021, poverty in the region has been reduced and has greater economic and social inclusion.
The region has also enjoyed improved road and irrigation facilities to promote and enhance economic activities under the Build, Build, Build Infrastructure Program; an improved peace and order situation; improved security situation; and made possible the declaration of five minahang bayan areas to address the ill-effects of small scale mining to the environment and communities.
Dar made the report during the sixth leg of the regional pre-State of the Nation Address series on June 1 at the Baguio Convention Center.
Dar reported the Cordillera’s poverty incidence dropped significantly from 22.7 percent in 2015 to 12 percent in 2018 and subsistence incidence among its population also declined from eight percent to 3.3 percent in the same period.
Poverty reduction was made possible with the growth in the regional economy averaging five percent between 2017 and 2019, with Cordillera performing better compared to the national average in both poverty indicators despite growing an average of six percent.
Dar said the reduced poverty may be attributed to the implementation of the Train law that exempted taxpayers earning P250,000 and below from paying personal income tax.
Goods and services also remained affordable due to manageable inflation rate in the region at an average of 2.6 percent between 2017 and 2019.
A total of 57,011 household beneficiaries availed of cash grants through the 4Ps in 2020.
By 2019, the region is 100 percent covered under the National Health Insurance Program.
The PhilHealth also accredited all of the region’s rural health units and Department of Health-licensed hospitals.
The region’s vulnerable population were assisted against the impacts of the pandemic through the Bayanihan Law 1 and 2, which provided cash transfer and temporary employment.
Dar said as of March 29, a total of P2.2 billion was distributed to 419,025 eligible families in the Cordillera through the Bayanihan 1 and 2 Social Amelioration Program.
Also, P307 million worth of agricultural projects are currently implemented in the region and all are expected to be completed by June 30.
Under the food resiliency program, 60,801 households received agricultural inputs, seeds, facilities, and animals and P174M cash assistance was provided to 33,800 farmers to help sustain their livelihood.
Dar said improved road and irrigation facilities that reduced inter-province and inter-region travel time are nearing completion.
Among which is the Cordillera trunkline, which was 99 percent completed by the end of 2020 with a total of 453.7 kilometers; the 64-km. Kabugao, Apayao to Solsona, Ilocos Norte Road that opened in July 2018 and reduced travel time between the two provinces from five to 1.5 hours; and the 54.246-km. BLISTT outer ring road project worth P7.779B, which is 50 percent completed in 2020.
Dar said the Cordillera Road Improvement Program has contributed to the region’s growing tourism industry, enhanced agricultural production and marketing, and improved peace and order situation.
From 2017 to 2020, the region was allocated P1.2B that realized the implementation of 159 farm-to-market road projects with a total length of 127 kms.
For 2021, P1.1B was allocated for 78 projects or 95 kms of all-weather roads in the region.
Dar reported crime incidence in the region dropped since 2016 through effective law enforcement and the campaign against illegal drugs.
Intensified police operation resulted in the arrests of the top three most wanted persons and 1,717 wanted persons in the region in 2020 alone.
Around 444 drug personalities were also arrested in 433 operations in 2020, confiscating P588.323 million worth of illegal drugs.
As of February,741 of the region’s 1,177 barangays have been classified as drug-cleared.
Dar said the downward trend in the Cordillera’s crime incidence, with an index crime solution efficiency of 73.1 percent in 2020, makes it one of the safest regions in the country.
The region also saw improvement in the overall security situation through the Whole of Nation Approach towards Inclusive and Sustainable Peace and Development program.
Eight pilot insurgency-free barangays of the region have been included in the 2021 Support to Barangay Development Program, which aims to provide support to barangays affected by insurgency and armed conflict by providing fund to priority programs and projects that will address existing issues and development gaps and expected to trigger economic development in these former conflict areas.
A total of P160M is allocated and will be distributed to the eight barangays at P20M each this year.
Stakeholders also worked for the localization of Executive Order 70, under which regional task forces to end local communist armed conflicts were created to help address insurgency and other peace and order concerns.
Strengthened operations of the armed forces and police have resulted in the decreased manpower and firepower strength of New Peoples Army rebels through their capture or surrender.
Programs and projects are offered to bring to the mainstream those who have joined local armed groups.
Dar said the massive landslide that claimed more than a hundred lives in Itogon, Benguet during Typhoon Ompong in 2018 cast the spotlight on the ill-effects of unregulated mining on the environment and on the safety and wellbeing concerns of small-scale miners.
Under the present administration, the Cordillera brought to the national government’s attention the need to balance economic development and management of its critical environment, which gave way to the declaration of five minahang bayan areas by 2021.
These are the Loakan Itogon Pocket Miners Association in Itogon, Benguet; Gambang Batangan Gold Star in Bakun, Benguet; that of Olivia Catral of Conner, Apayao; Northern Sagada Barangay Small Miners in Mountain Province; and that of Manuel Canipas of Managa also in Conner, which have 925 beneficiaries and cover a total area of 373.75 hectares.
“Much has to be done. We have performed well but we need to work together much more as one, to put in place the completed reforms under this administration. We shall continue to work together to reverse the negative growth in 2020 to a positive one in 2021 and in the years to come,” Dar said.
He added public health concerns shall remain the top priority, followed by food security.
The Philippine Development Plan for 2017 to 2022 and its localization is on process, which include enhanced police policies and strategies to address challenges brought about by the Covid-19. – Hanna C. Lacsamana