The pursuit of self-determination – Cordilleran leaders help remind the nation in 2020 that the region and its people are ready for autonomous governance with the Cordillera being a model for local government response to the pandemic.

A challenging year for everyone, Cordillerans reminded the nation of its uniqueness and exemplary response against adversity. The pursuit for Cordillera autonomy remained an important priority despite the worldwide crisis and Cordillerans might have made its best case for the region’s readiness for self-governance.

Resilient Cordillera
The years-long tradition of the Unity Gong Relay was cancelled in observance of health guidelines. However, a smaller face-to-face commemoration of the CAR’s founding anniversary was conducted and aired online to thousands of viewers on July 15 where Cordillera official expressed their support for Cordillera autonomy as a means to regional development and to strengthen Cordilleran cultural identity. With this year’s theme being “One Resilient Cordillera: Embracing the New Normal Towards Recovery”, officials stressed that the exemplary acts showcased by Cordillerans in different sectors of society during the community quarantine were key examples of the readiness of the region for self-determination through autonomous governance. In September, Cordillerans once again gathered face-to-face and online to commemorate the 1986 Sipat between the national government and the Cordilleran Tribal Elders. Sipat witness and Sadanga Mayor Gabino Ganggangan called on the current administration to fulfill the promise of the Philippine Government to provide meaningful autonomous governance for the Cordillera region.

Increasing Support
Further support for Cordillera autonomy was expressed by Local Government Units and Civil Society Organizations with 93 new resolutions urging the current administration to prioritize the legislation establishing the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera. This is compounded by champions of Cordillera autonomy on the national stage like Agriculture Secretary William Dar, Peace Secretary Carlito Galvez, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri.

The Cordillera autonomy advocacy program, led by RDC-CAR through NEDA-CAR, had most of its activities and funding focused on face-to-face Information, Education, and Communication forums and gatherings. The program had to adapt to the new guidelines enforced because of the worldwide pandemic. Nevertheless, significant gains were achieved in 2020 with an increased focus on social media and online webinars. Legislation for Cordillera Autonomy made significant strides as well with the leadership of Tarlac 3rd District Congressmen Noel Villanueva who chairs the House Committee on Local Government. The Committee conducted its deliberation of House Bill 5687 filed by all CAR Congressmen and 7778 filed by Benguet Caretaker Congressman Eric Yap. The Committee, through Congressman Villanueva, created a technical working group composed of CAR Congressmen led by Congressmen Go and Dalog and the Regional Directors of the Cordillera Regional Line Agencies, to ensure the Constitutionality of the filed bills and ensure no existing laws conflict with it. “We must comply to existing laws, otherwise, our efforts may go for naught”, Villanueva expressed.

Adjusting to the new normal
Due to the pandemic, the RDC’s Social Preparation of CAR into an Autonomous Region (SPCAR) program had to adjust its strategy for Information, Education, and Communication (IECs). The autonomy advocacy program was retooled in 2020 to adapt to the changing landscape of IECs. Through a 4-phase project, (1) the program revised and updated the IEC modules, (2) presented them to advocacy partners, (3) created various IEC materials based on the updated modules, and finally, (4) trained new advocates to disseminate information on Cordillera autonomy. 40 advocates from all over the Cordillera region participated in the two-day workshop to learn from seasoned IEC speakers and help further the awareness and support for Cordillera autonomy.

The NCIP has also been a key partner in the shift to alternative IEC activities. They have partnered with NEDA-CAR to launch the TALK TIME video series which engaged Cordillerans in discussing the importance of achieving Cordillera autonomy. NCIP also engaged the region’s Indigenous Peoples’ Mandatory Representatives to further their knowledge and involvement in the advocacy.

Just as Cordillerans have shown their resilience during this pandemic, so does the pursuit for autonomy remain persistent in its efforts. As RDC-CAR Chair and Abra Governor Joy Bernos said during the 2020 State of the Region address in July, “We will survive. We will recover. We will overcome – because we Cordillerans see difficulties as opportunities to be at our best”.

By Marlo Lubguban, NEDA-SPCAR
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