I am a government employee working with the National Economic and Development Authority of the Cordillera Administrative Region (NEDA-CAR). My agency serves as secretariat to the Regional Development Council (RDC) which is leading the effort for a third autonomy act.
In April 26 and 27, 2011, in response to an invitation by the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) to my agency, I and one other staff participated in the Cordilera Day celebration in Barangay Buneg, Lacub, Abra to specifically join the workshop on Genuine Regional Autonomy.
This was not the first time that I joined the celebration as a government employee. In 2009, I and other NEDA staff members together with our Regional Director who was then the Acting Chairman of the RDC, also responded to an invitation by an elders’ organization to join the decentralized Mountain Province Cordillera Day celebration in Ankileng, Sagada, Mountain Province. Unlike this second invitation, which only asked for our attendance, the RDC in the Ankileng celebration contributed P50,000.00 to the event.
I look at the invitation by a militant group of a government institution and the positive response by the latter as very good gestures especially on an important agenda that speaks of the Cordillera’s future.
I persoally look at the Buneg workshop on Regional Autonomy as symbolic. The village contributed much to the successful Tingguian war against the logging concession of the Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC). Cellophil was awarded in 1973 and 1974 a concession of 197,346.26 hectares of land covering Abra, Mountain Province, Kalinga-Apayao, Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.
I have always thought that the struggles against the Chico Dam and the Cellophil were the most significant seeds that sprung into the desire for an autonomous Cordilera. Buneg therefore is an appropriate venue – it is a reminder that in this movement for a Cordillera Autonomous Government, people must never forget to look back to its early beginnings.
The workshop started with an input on the historical context of Regional Autonomy. First was the making of the Filipino minority with the colonization of the country by Spain. A cultural divide was created between the colonized majority and uncolonized minority. The uncolonized minority are now known as indigenous people (IP).
The IPs were further marginalized by the succeeding Philippine administrations. First by the Americans, then the Philippine Republic through laws and policies that were inimical to their interests. The Regalian Doctrine passed by Spain declared the Philippine Islands as belonging to the King of Spain was maintained to mean belonging to the State. The implementation of this law and many antecedent laws and policies were coupled with force and indigenous people resisted in both legal and armed forms.
As the people resisted, they also formulated a vision of a self-determining society partly drawing inspiration from the recognition by international bodies of this right. The UN Charter on Civil and Political Rights states: All peoples have the rights of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
The people’s expressions of the right to self determination were all against a national government that is not responding to their needs but on the contrary are violating their rights as IPs. Self Determination has different levels depending on the people’s experiences with the national government.
One form is secession which the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and its splinter group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front spouse. Secession means a separate and independent state.
Another level is Regional Autonomy which the CPA lobbied to be included in the 1987 Constitution. A regional autonomous government can make decisions for its territory independent from the national government but still recognizes racial connection and solidarity with the rest of the people of that national state.
Questions and answers during the workshop
1. Is autonomy worth it based on the experiences of Muslim Mindanao?
To guarantee a genuine regional autonomy, we should ensure that true democracy works. This means that the regional government respects and encourages, not just in words, the flourishing of people’s movement and participation in governance. If the regional government cannot correct the politics of guns, goons and gold and political leaders can actually manipulate people’s opinions then autonomy becomes an added layer of the bureaucracy. Maymayat pa yen diyay awan ti regional autonomy ta national government ti oppressor tayo haan nga kadwa tayo mismo nga IP ti mang-oppress kadatayo (It is better not to have Regional Autonomy and be oppressed by the national government than to have a regional autonomous government run by fellow IPs but oppressive to its people).
2. Should we not unite first in ensuring national democracy before we talk of regional autonomy?
We can contribute to national democracy through regional autonomy. But that also depends on how strong the regional government holds on to democratic principles.
3. With the lecture that Regional Autonomy sprung from indigenous people’s struggle, how do we respond to the fear that regional autonomy will promote reverse discrimination where IPs will discriminate against non-IPs? –
a) We should not forget that Regional Autonomy is a struggle against the discrimination of IPs. If we remember this, we develop the value against discriminating other people in any form.
b) In many IP communities there are non-IP settlers. They are welcome and are respected because they did not come to oppress us. If settlers become bad residents, we drive them out just like any member of the tribe who do not respect community traditions and practices. A lot of IP groups are also migrating people. If they settle in other places, they are expected to behave in accordance with the practices of the communities that adopt them.
Observations/resolutions by CPA:
The workshop group agrees on the following:
1. That the present RDC Regional Autonomy IEC is politician dominated and just like the previous organic acts highlights the billions of subsidy as the come-on for Regional Autonomy;
2. The RDC calendar is too fast. There should be more consultations at the grassroots level.
3. CPA must conduct its own consultations with the grassroots and come out with a primer on Genuine Regional Autonomy to elevate discussions and promote debates on the issue.
During the workshop report, the Regional Autonomy Group came up with an action chant that revives a similar CPA chant when it was lobbying the 1987 Constitutional Commission:
“Pudno nga autonomy, namnama ti umili. Magun-od laeng dayta no entay agkaykaysa (Genuine Regional Autonomy is the dream of the people. But this can only be achieved through unity).”