QUEST FOR AUTONOMY AND THE CORDILLERAN IDENTITY
The celebration of Cordillera Month this July should also be a time for Cordillerans to reflect on the relevance of the quest for a regional autonomy that has been pursued for 34 years now.
In the last three decades that advocates have been engaging in the information, education, and communication campaigns, Cordillerans should have attained the level of maturity and understanding why, despite indifference, pessimism, and political bickering, genuine advocates have remained steadfast in calling for the establishment an autonomous region in the highland.
There’s no need to emphasize that the option to be autonomous is provided for in the Constitution, thanks to the then leadership of Conrado Balweg who led the clamor for the national government to recognize the Cordillera indigenous peoples’ right to participate and decide in their quest for lasting peace and development.
For 34 years, advocates for autonomy have been coming up with various strategies and approaches to make the Cordillerans understand why an autonomous region remains relevant up to this modern time.
The attitude of local government units in the pursuit for self-governance has since changed from being lukewarm to being supportive through the years.
We recognize the efforts of government agencies, through the Regional Development Council, in adjusting its IEC strategies, among other approaches, to counter the misinformation suffered by the autonomy campaign, which led to overwhelming rejection of the two Organic Acts for an autonomous region in two plebiscites in 1990 and 1998.
After more than three decades of IEC – adjusted and intensified in various ways –we cannot keep on claiming we still do not understand the concept of self-governance and why there’s a need for us to finally give it a chance.
Even with the impending implementation of the Mandanas Ruling that strengthens the principle of decentralization and gives LGUs more funds to finance the functions devolved to them by the national government, we share the view that the Cordillera still needs an autonomous setup.
We consider the decentralization espoused by the Mandanas Ruling as complementary, not contrary to the region’s autonomy pursuit.
At the very least, we need to give autonomy a chance for us to finally realize the very reason why the establishment of an autonomous Cordillera was enshrined in the Constitution – for us to craft polices that are responsive to our development needs and policies that adhere to and attuned withour sensibilities as indigenous peoples.
While the Mandanas’ implementation will improve the LGUs’ delivery of basic services, we view autonomy to also enhance our ability to chart our regional development patterned after the Cordilleran identity.