Cordillera autonomy inches closer to realization with the hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Local Government (CLG) of the proposed law Establishing the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera. House Bill 5687, filed by all CAR Congressmen, and HB 7778 filed by Benguet Cartaker Congressman Eric Yap were up for deliberation by the Committee chaired by Tarlac 3rd District Representative Noel Villanueva.

Congressman Maximo Dalog Jr. said that the current attempt at Cordillera autonomy is more acceptable to the people of the Cordillera as it is a product of intensive public consultation among stakeholders from community leaders, government agencies, and civil society organizations. Dalog emphasized that autonomy for the Cordillera will bring the region to national attention with the promotion of multicultural and economic policies as well as sustainable development through the management of natural resources based on indigenous knowledge of the region’s unique environment.

Alluding to the region’s history, Congressman Mangaoang of Kalinga said that “the Cordillerans that were once divided on the issue of autonomy are now united in the quest for self-determination”. The provinces and chartered city that comprise the Cordillera region today were once divided between Regions 1 and 2 from 1972 to 1987 during a period of rapid change and development in the country.

Failure of the past attempts at regional autonomy were attributed to poor information dissemination and a lack of readiness and unity among the provinces. Mangaoang continued, “We are more than ready, our effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic using our traditions, culture of sharing, ingenuity and resilience showed our readiness for self-governance. The Cordillera region has become one of the best performing regions in the fight against COVID-19 this demonstrates an unquestionable capacity for self-determination.”

Baguio City Representative Mark Go likewise emphasized that times have changed since the failed attempts in 1990 and 1998. He clarified that information on Cordillera autonomy has been a continuing discussion. He added that engagement with the public on this issue has been consistent in the decades since and up to the present. Technology has afforded the Cordillera region, with its historically remote and isolated villages, a better opportunity to disseminate information among its stakeholders, he stated.

Cordillera Regional Development Council Vice Chair and NEDA-CAR Regional Director Milagros Rimando highlighted that unlike in the past, there has been a convergence of stakeholders that expressed their support for Cordillera autonomy. Statements of support were received from Cordillera local government units, Indigenous Peoples’ Mandatory Representatives, and the private sector. Support also came from various national agencies and Cabinet secretaries who recognized the Constitutional mandate of Cordillera autonomy and its necessity to address various development and security concerns in the region.

Rimando emphasized that Cordillera autonomy must be granted in accordance to the 1987 Constitution as well as the Sipat peace agreement of 1986 between the Philippine Government and the Cordillera Tribal leaders. She added that the Cordillera Regional Development Plan has always focused on the attainment of Cordillera autonomy primarily to address inappropriate national policies and program standards imposed in the geographically-unique and culturally diverse region.

“We need to grab this opportunity now, the time is very, very right”, said CLG Chair Villanueva. However, he added that “we cannot approve this very important piece of legislation in a single sitting”. Thus, the Committee, through Congressman Villanueva, created a technical working group composed of CAR Congressmen led by Congressmen Go and Dalog and the Regional Directors of the Cordillera Regional Line Agencies, to ensure the Constitutionality of the filed bills and ensure no existing laws conflict with it. “We must comply to existing laws, otherwise, our efforts may go for naught”, Villanueva expressed.

Congressman Villanueva also committed the full support of the 18th Congress House of Representatives Committee on Local Government in conducting regional consultations and finally getting a bill passed into law establishing the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera. As he said, “We have so much work to do but we have one objective in mind, in this 18th Congress, we will pass the enacting law for the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera.”