BAGUIO CITY – “Bagim lang dayta papel, bagik daytoy daga” so goes the old adage among the people of Kalinga as shared by autonomy advocate Lawrence Balud during his discussion of the region’s pursuit of autonomy with the students of Joaquin Smith National High School in Asin, Baguio last September 30. The saying alludes to the Spanish Regalian Doctrine and its subsequent reinforcement through land titling. Balud explained that the people of the Cordillera have been practicing autonomy at the ili or community level even prior to any Spanish or American influence. The communal and ancestral ownership of land, which does not require paperwork or titles, was and remains a major influence in indigenous practices.

Oppressive laws such as the Regalian Doctrine during the Spanish colonial period and the Public Land Act of 1903 neglected the practices of the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera mountains in the Philippines, according to Balud. Such neglect eventually led to the exploitation of natural resources in the Cordillera region as communities could not provide titles to the lands their families have been living on for generations. Development projects such as the Ambuklao and Binga dams provided electricity to other areas of the country while displacing numerous families, and large-scale mining operations disrupted generations of sustainable small mining practices. Opposition against the Cellophil logging project in Abra and the proposed Chico river dams rose and a clamor for Cordillerans to determine their own development through regional autonomy grew.

Balud said the numerous past policies left the Cordillera in a disadvantaged position. “We would not have strived for autonomy if we weren’t oppressed”, he added. Balud requested the help the students of Joaquin Smith National High School in the movement for Cordillera autonomy. “Let’s do it together”, he said.

After the discussion, the students voted in a mock plebiscite where 99% of the participants voted in favor of Cordillera autonomy. The senior high school students later participated in the literary competition where students expressed their desire to achieve regional autonomy for peace and development.

A similar event was conducted on the same day among Mankayan and Lepanto National High School senior high school students in Mankayan, Benguet. These events were organized in partnership with NEDA-CAR as the technical secretariat of the Cordillera Regional Development Council which adopted Cordillera autonomy as the best way to achieve sustainable development and just and lasting peace in the region.