National and local leaders, elders, autonomy advocates, and representatives from various sectors gathered last September 13, 2020, in Baguio City to recollect and discuss the deep meaning of the 34th Mt. Data Peace Accord of 1986.

In the program, Regional Development Council Vice Chairman and NEDA-CAR Director Milagros Rimando welcomed the participants, while Agriculture Secretary William Dar delivered the opening remarks. In his speech, Secretary Dar emphasized that peace and development in the region could be attained through regional autonomy.

Later, Cordilleran leaders and personalities recounted the events that culminated in the signing of the Peace accord. As a young local leader in the municipality of Sadanga in the 1980s, Mayor Gabino Ganggangan shared his firsthand account of the events that led to the peace pact between the Cordillera rebels and the National Government. The 1970s to the 80s were marked by a period of oppression and exploitation of the Cordillerans and their resources by the then Marcos-led government. According to Congressman Mark Go of Baguio City, there were two major events that sparked the organized people’s movement in the Cordillera: first was the Chico River Basin Development Project in Kalinga and Bontoc, and second was the Cellophil Project in Abra. Both projects threatened to displace the peoples of Abra, Kalinga, and Mountain Province from their own ancestral lands. The local tribal leaders then mounted a stand to oppose these projects and some took up arms against the government.

When President Marcos stepped down, the newly-installed President Corazon Aquino reached out to the leaders of the movement and entered into a peace agreement with the rebels led by Fr. Conrado Balweg. The issues were addressed through the indigenous practice of Sipat held at the Mt. Data Hotel in Bauko, Mt. Province on September 13, 1986. This ceased hostility between Philippine armed forces and the armed groups in the Cordillera. This was the first peace agreement signed in the history of the peace process in the country. This peace agreement led to the inclusion of regional autonomy for the Cordillera in the 1987 Constitution. As a transition towards the autonomous Cordillera governance provided in the Constitution, the Philippine government created the Cordillera Administrative Region through Executive Order 220.

After 34 years, the autonomous region for the Cordillera has yet to be realized. Mayor Ganggangan stressed that it is only when regional autonomy is established that the essence of Mt. Data Sipat will be achieved. “We commemorate this day to remind our regional and national government leaders and officials to affirm and intensify our efforts and commitment to establish Cordillera Autonomy,” he said. Mr. Leonardo Bun-as, one of the program’s speakers and signatory of the peace accord stated that Cordillerans should actively push for autonomy in this present administration. National officials, headed by Senator Cristopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, the guest of honor of this year’s Sipat anniversary, relayed in their messages their reassurance of support of the region’s ultimate goal, by helping push the bills filed in the Congress for the establishment of the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera.

After the two failed plebiscites of 1990 and 1998, a renewed drive for regional autonomy was spearheaded by the RDC-CAR. House Bill no. 5687: “An Act Establishing the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera”, was filed last December 2, 2019 in the House of Representatives which was authored by all of Cordillera’s Congressmen. Senate Bill 1232, a counterpart bill, was filed by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri last December 11, 2019.

Among those who also participated in the Sipat celebration were members of the military, heads of the regional line agencies, youth leaders, and IPMRs of the region. The program was also attended through online videoconference and was shared through online media sites.