On May 4, Baguio City Cong. Mark Go and Committee on Local Government (CLG) Chair Cong. Noel Villanueva again convened the technical working group (TWG) for the proposed bill on establishing the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera (ARC). Invited during the meeting were representatives from central and regional offices of government agencies and local chief executives.
The TWG met with national and regional stakeholders to solicit inputs on the provisions of the proposed organic act and to come up with a substitute bill to be submitted to the CLG by the time the next session of Congress resumes.
Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong expressed the city’s support for regional autonomy and provided his position on certain provisions of the proposed organic act including the definition of the term Cordilleran. Currently in the bill, “Cordilleran” is defined as all citizens of the Philippines who are residents for at least one year within the ARC. Similar to the definition provided in past house bills, Magalong reiterated that the term Cordilleran should include all who are born in the Cordillera region and who are and were domiciled in the region emphasizing the inclusion of those who choose the region to be their permanent home regardless of their residency. Magalong also raised issues on the salaries of regional officials, transfer of funds and appropriations, provision of the seat of the Regional Governor, and the creation of two regions within the Cordillera – an Autonomous Region for those who would vote in favor of the organic act and an Administrative Region for those who would vote no. Such situation can leave a single province or city that votes against the organic act isolated from the LGUs that vote in favor of the organic act.
The TWG will consolidate the comments of the participants to come up with a substitute bill which Congressman Go said will be reviewed by the CAR Congressmen in another meeting before they submit this to the mother Committee on Local Government. Go earlier pronounced that the TWG wants the proposed organic act for Cordillera autonomy passed before the end of the 18th Congress.
CLG Chair Congressman Villanueva described the creation of the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera as a constitutional command. He said that the intent is not just to create another layer of bureaucracy in the region but rather, all efforts are in the spirit of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which stipulate the creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras. “This is not just a whim or caprice of the political leaders of the Cordillera — we are complying with the dictates of the constitution,” Villanueva added.
Further, NEDA OIC-Regional Director and RDC Acting Vice Chair Stephanie Christiansen stressed the agency’s unwavering commitment and support for the region’s pursuit for autonomy by providing platforms for regional stakeholders to provide their inputs in support of the legislative process. Christiansen said “We see regional autonomy both as a means and an end, that is, a means to achieve better life for every Cordilleran, and an end as it complies with a constitutional requirement.”