TABUK CITY – “There is no place like home”, said Kalinga Congressman Allen Jesse Mangaoang in his address to the members of the Igorot Global Organization during the 13th Igorot International Conference held on February 7 to 10. The Kalinga representative sparked the discussion on the continuing need for Cordillera autonomy. Several speakers gave their take on the potential of the Cordillera region in developing agriculture, tourism, and even geothermal power through self-governance.

“Working overseas is an ultimate sacrifice”, Mangaoang continued in his address to the delegates of the conference. He lamented the flight of skilled and talented Cordillerans for better opportunities outside the country. The Congressman acknowledged that the emigration of talented and skilled individuals is a nationwide concern. He listed legislative initiatives such as the “Balik scientist program” as the Philippine Government’s recognition of the need to retain talented and skilled Filipinos.

Mangaoang singled out Cordillerans for continuing to take pride and promote Igorot culture despite living in foreign lands. He hopes that Cordillera autonomy will buck the trend of “brain-drain”/human capital flight in the region by providing a place where Cordilleran culture and heritage are celebrated and institutionalized and maximize existing talent. He, therefore, called on the members of the Igorot Global Organization to invest in the region and support the long dream of Cordilleran self-determination.

Igorot pioneer and energy resource expert Rufino Bomasang called this dream of a better Cordillera region as “Igorotlandia”. He emphasized that the Cordillera must be economically viable to thrive in an autonomous set-up. Bomasang detailed that the region can achieve this through the development of renewable energy resources such as hydro and geothermal energy. “We have important God-given assets, such as vast eco-tourism sites, natural and renewable energy resources, and skilled human capital”, he said. Bomasang also highlighted the Igorot value of Inayan as a model for the sustainable management of resources and proper governance of the autonomous region.

He stressed that the local people must actively participate in project development and become true shareholders in a corporate framework. In this way, locals can form mining and energy companies and invite technical assistance on the utilization of resources but remain as the decision-makers and stakeholders. Bomasang believes this is the key to accelerate development in the region and prevent previous abuses against indigenous peoples and exploitation of natural resources in the Cordillera. He encouraged the cooperation of all Cordillerans to make this “quantum leap” in economic development.

Regional Development Council Vice-Chair and NEDA-CAR Regional Director Milagros Rimando recalled that the peoples of the Cordillera have always had a sense of self-governance and autonomy that helped resist Spanish Colonization and even persisted during the American period.

This had persevered until modern times with the resistance of Cordilleran icons such as Mateo Cariño, Macli-ing Dulag, and Conrado Balweg against development neglect and aggression. Rimando detailed that the journey towards Cordillera autonomy has led to the continued work of the Regional Development Council to pursue this dream as the best way to achieve sustainable development and just and lasting peace in the region.

DOT-CAR Officer-n-Charge Jovita Ganongan and DOST-CAR Regional Director Nancy Bantog both presented tourism and research prospects in CAR. Each focused on the potential of the agriculture sector which has been the foundation of the Cordillera region but has recently underperformed in economic production. Bantog Shared various Cordillera research and development innovations based on indigenous practices that could boost productivity. Ganongan encouraged the IGO members to help pique the interest of the younger Cordillera generation to pursue careers in agriculture and agri-preneurship.