By Michael Umaming

Baguio City:   CAR has renewed the pursuit of regional autonomy in 1997, yet it is not even mentioned in the Philippine Development Plan (PDP).  We are the watershed cradle of North Luzon but what do we get out of it? 

These were some of the concerns raised by Dr. Virgilio Bautista, co-chairman of the RDC, during the CAR PDP Midterm Review at the Supreme Hotel last April 22, 2013.  The concerns were addressed to representatives of the NEDA Central Office (CO) who facilitated the review.

“I understand that the national government is looking after the concerns of 17 regions and that there should be no special treatment,” Bautista said during an interview after the consultation. 

“But we had been left behind: Our mountains had been mined out yet the mining companies paid most of their taxes outside of the region and CAR remains to have the least paved roads in the entire country making social services difficult to access,” he said further.

The region, having been viewed in the past as a resource-base to serve national interest, remains to pin its hope on Regional Autonomy to hasten its development.  The RDC in its autonomy information, education and communication (IEC) campaign says it demands a national subsidy for the would-be autonomous region because the national government has to correct this historical injustice that was largely responsible to the underdeveloped conditions of CAR today.

Bautista said it would be unfair to say there were no positive changes in the region.  But reform is snail-pace because unsuitable policies remain in place.

He said building roads in the region, because of its contour requires more money, yet the standard in constructing roads in the lowland is applied here.

Some Cordillera political leaders also pushed for a redefinition of a host community to include (in the context of hydroelectric dams) upstream communities, where the watershed supplying water to the dams, comes from.  In the present definition, a host community refers only to the site of the hydroelectric dam. 

Bautista said that Regional Autonomy would be the best solution to the national government’s seemingly disinterest to our concerns.  It would be the fastest way to change policies that put the region on a disadvantage.”

“With autonomy, perhaps, we can even redirect Baguio City’s practice of upgrading visibly good roads and put the money to areas that need them most,” he said.

Bautista also laments the lack of RDC and private sector representatives to the National Plan Steering Committee.   “The private sector and the regions need a voice in there,” he said.

Representatives of NEDA-CO said they came to the consultation without a draft implying that there remains a space in the national plan to accommodate regional concerns.