(Paper presented during the Development and Autonomy Forum held at the University of the Cordilleras, Baguio City, on July 23, 2008)

By Fernando D Bahatan Jr


1. Self-governing and autonomous tribes in the Cordilleras

The primitive tribal villages in the Cordillleras had their own customary laws and practices on all matters: land, personal relation, property, forest, natural resources, holidays, sickness, death, farming, defense of homeland and people, invasion by other tribes or people, victory, a successful journey or hunting, among others. They were self-governing and autonomous. They used and developed their natural resources in the way they saw fit and were capable of with consideration not only of the needs of their generation but also of future generations. They produced their own food. They carried barter trade with other tribes and with the lowland populace. They fought the Spanish, American, Japanese colonizers to protect their homeland, the natural resources therein and their culture. They also fought against one another for same reasons and for revenge or to show their superiority. They fought the Philippine Government or its instrumentalities that imposed on them some national laws (forestry laws in particular) or projects ( Chico Dam, Cellophil). They also fought against the insurgents in certain ways when their values and culture were threatened. In their fight and battles sometimes they win and sometimes they lost. They had always been a proud of their culture. They consider it honorable to die fighting for it..

While colonization, modern governance, modern education, foreign religion and other external influences made great inroads on the way of life and thinking of the tribal communities, many customary laws and practices of great forebears are still alive and being practiced today although with some modifications.

This early scenario of the tribal villages and peoples is confirmed by writings of early and even modern foreign writers, missionaries and other authorities who also attest to the love of these tribes for freedom and independence, even their passion to show their courage, determination and superiority (at least in their own thinking) even if their enemy had better weapons..

This primitive self-governance or autonomy of tribal communities is the root for the struggle for a modern Cordillera regional autonomy at least for some Cordillera revolutionaries, intellectuals, activists and other advocates for Cordillera regional autonomy.


  1. Antolin, Francisco. 1970. Notes on the Pagan Igorots in 1789. W. H. Scott (trans. and edited.) Asian Folklore Studies (1970) 29:177-250.
  2. Beyer, H. Otley. 1907. Th Igorrotes. Philippine Education. vol. 4, no. 4:14-18. Manila
  3. Scott, William Henry. 1974. Ifugao Warriors Repulse Spanish Expedition. Baguio Midland Courier. Vol. 27, No.23 (Nov. 10): 2, 13. Baguio City.
  4. ……………….1973. Peace Pacts: Secret of the Igorots in their Fight against Spain. Baguio Midland Courier. (Nov. 18: 10-12. Baguio City
  5. Lambrecht, Francis. 1962, Ifugao Custom and Moral Law. Philippine Studies. Vol. 10, no. 2.275-299. Manila.
  6. Alarcon, Ruperto. 1857. A Description of the Customs of the People of Kiangan, Bunhian, and Mayoyao. William Henry Scott (trans.). Journal of the Folkers Institute 2 (1): 75-100. The Hague.
  7. Villaverde, Juan Fernandez. 1909. The Ifugaos of Quiangan and Vicinity. Translated and edited by Dean C. Worcester. With notes and addendum by L.E. Case. Philippine Journal of Sciences, vol. 4 (A), No.4:237-262.
  8. Barrows, David P. 1903. Headhunters of Northern Luzon. Independent, vol. 55:1104-1146. New York
  9. …………… The Kalingas, their Institutions and Custom Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 275npp.
  10. Tadaoan, Pio M. 1969. An Appraisal of the Economic, Political, Social and Religious Aspects of the Culture of the Mountain Provinces in the Light of the Objectives of the Commission on National Integration and the Community Schools. PH. D. Dissertation, Saint Louis University
  11. Jenista, Frank. The WhiteApos
  12. Bishop Claver, Francisco, S.J. At the nozzle-end of the Gun, (A report to President Marcos dated April 25, 1975 attached to his letter titled From My Father’s House)

2. Emergence of Autonomy among Cordillerans in the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA)

The CCPP/NPA movement entered the Cordilleras first through the Province of Ifugao in 1970, then moved to the other provinces of Cordillera. Many native Cordillerans joined the movement for various reasons. Many believed that the NPA came to help them defend their rights and homeland being abuse by the National Government and its instrumentalities. Some joined in order to escape arrest for crimes they committed or take revenge for crimes committed against them or their families. Others thought that it was a good and interesting adventure and opportunity for a better life. Various NPA units were organized in the Cordilleras. In 1974 there were already company size formations. In some towns there were shadow governments of the CPP/NPA.

Some native Cordilleran cadres started to question the purposes of the CPP/NPA and its military and political strategies in the light of several abuses committed against the people and in the light of certain failures in their operations. In 1972 Ka Elias (Mario Pugong) of Hungduan, Ifugao and Ka Benjie or Ka Juling (William Faleg-ey) of Bontoc, Mountain Province proposed to the CPP/NPA Central Command the formation of the Igorot Liberation Army (ILA) and the Federation of Tribes for Liberation (FITL). The former would be the military component and the latter, the civilian component. They believed that the tribes in the Cordilleras had a culture and terrain different from the lowlands and therefore should be treated somewhat differently. The military units in the Cordillera should be given certain freedom or autonomy in their political and military sorties. Some who believed in the proposal but were afraid of possible punishment opted to keep silent. Others did not support the proposal out of jealousy. The proposal was flatly rejected by the CPP/NPA Central Command. The two proponents were severely scolded and sent for some time to the Cagayan Valley, far away from their own tribes and homeland and co-cadres. The iadea of the two was forgotten.

A larger and enhanced idea of autonomy resurrected in 1986 particularly among members of the Lumbaya Company of the NPA stationed in Kalinga. Under the leadership of Ka Ambo (Fr. Conrado Balweg, SVD) a Tinguian from Abra and then the political officer of the Lumbaya Company, the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) was formed (March 1, 1986) with the twin purposes to defend the Cordillera homeland and its people and to push for Cordillera autonomy. It was able to get the open support of many cadres and tribal leaders and members in the Cordillera. It formally split from the CPP/NPA on April 7, 1986 due to ideological and tactical differences. It was so far the most successful secessionist group from the CPP/NPA. No other group had separated from the CPP/NPA with such solidness and number of arms retained by the group. It heeded the call of then President Aquino for peace and reconciliation.


  1. Bahatan, Fernando Jr. Contemporary Struggle for Cordillera Regional Autonomy: A Chronology of Events with Annotations. 1995. Revised 2000. Computerized.
  2. ………………… They Saw, They Fought, They Remembered (A Story of Three Former Rebels of Ifugao), 2006. Computerized
  3. Letter of Vice President Salvador Laurel to Fr. Conrado Balweg, April 7, 1986.
  4. Letter-reply of Fr. Conrado Balweg to Vice President Salvador Laurel. May 19, 1986.
  5. Thomas Killip. Sagada Peace Zone. A Paper Presented at the North-South Dialogue and Discourses on Peace and Development organized by the Cordilleras Studies Center, Nov.7-8, 2005.

3. Attempts at Regionalization for the Old Mountain Province

Presidential order No. 1 of then President Ferdinand Marcos divided in the Country in 13 regions supposedly for better administration, planning and development. The old Mountain Province composed then of four provinces and one city was not made as one region. Instead the provinces of Ifugao and Kalinga-Apayao were placed under Region 2 (Cagayan Valley) and the provinces of Benguet, Mountain Province, and the City of Baguio were placed under Region 1 Ilocos Region). With this arrangement the above provinces were somehow minoritized and got less attention in terms of fund allocation and development projects which was understandable at that time.

In 1976 the governors of these four provinces forwarded a resolution to President Marcos asking for a separate region for the old Mountain Province coverage. But the request had not been granted.

Assemblymen or representatives in Congress of Ifugao and Baguio namely Jess Paredes and Honorato Aquino respectively filed separate bills in the Batasan for a separate Mountain Province Region. The bills also did not prosper.


  1. Advancing Cordillera Regional Autonomy: A Source Book. Cordillera Studies Center, University of the Philippines. 1994.
  2. Laking, Jaime. Separate Region for the Mountain Province. Philippine Daily Express. August 19, 1977. Manila
  3. Bahatan, Fernando Jr. Contemporary Struggle for Cordillera Regional
  4. Autonomy: A Chronology of Events with Annotations, 1995. Revised 2000. Computerized.
  5. Presidential Order No. 1. 1972.

4. Mt. Data Sipat

After the exchange of letters between Vice President Laurel and Fr. Conrado Balweg, a series of preliminary peace talks between presidential emissary Agapito “Butch” Aquino and members and leaders of the Cordillera Bodong Association (CBA) and CPLA were held in Sadanga, Mountain Province and Tinglayan, Kalinga.

On September 13th at the Mt. Data Hotel at Mt. Data, Bauko, Mountain Province, a Sipat (first step towards peace talks) was performed between the CPLA and the Republic of the Philippines.

During the Sipat the CBA/CPLA and a newly organized organization, the Montanosa National Solidarity (MNS) presented to President Aquino a paper entitled “ Towards the Solution of the Cordillera Problem: A Statement ofPosition”. This paper outlined the root of the Cordillera problem and contained 26 specific demands that touched on political, social, economic, cultural, military, police and foreign relations matters. These demands, according to the paper, if addressed, would end the armed struggle and usher in peace in the Cordilleras. The President committed to have the demands tackled formally during the peace talk.

Demand No. 1 is the recognition by the National Government of the autonomy of the various ethnolinguistic groups in the Cordilleras.

Demand No. 4 is for National Government to guarantee the independence and freedom of the Cordillera Nation in preserving, consolidating and developing the socialist way of life and moral order indigenous to its homelands.

Demand No. 6 is for the National Government to set up a Federal Republic of the Philippines that allows the existence within the framework of autonomous and co-equal states, including a Cordillera Autonomous Socialist State.

During the Sipat the New Armed Forces of the Philippines and the CPLA entered into an agreement for a cessation of hostilities.


  1. CBA-CPLA-MNS. Towards the Solution of the Cordillera Problem: A Statement of Position, 1986.
  2. Joint Memorandum of Agreement between the New Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army for a Cessation of Hostilities, September 13, 1986, Mt. Data, Bauko, Mt. Province.
  3. Bahatan, Fernando Jr and Ganggangan, Gabino. Struggle for a Cordillera Nation (CBA-CPLA’s Struggle for a New Social, Economic and Political Order in the Cordillera). Computerized. 2006.
  4. Bahatan, Fernando Jr. Contemporary Struggle for Cordillera Regional Autonomy: A Chronology of Events with Annotations. 1995. Revised 2000. Computerized..

5. Peace Talks and Groups Involved

The peace talks formally started on December 15, 1986 at the Mansion in Baguio City with presidential emissary Agapito Aquino as chief convenor. The idea of having other groups in the Cordillera aside from the CBA/CPLA was suggested by the convenor as early as October 1986 to which the CBA/CPLA agreed. Hence, the organization of the Cordillera Broad Coalition in November 1986.

The three main groupings during the initial negotiations that were given representations in the Cordillera negotiating panel were the CBA/CPLA, the CPA (Cordillera People’s Alliance), and the CBC (Cordillera Broad Coalition).

The CPLA. It believed that the root cause of the Cordillera problem was the Regalian based national laws over the people’s indigenous land laws. It argued that regional autonomy was a valid demand and the correct measure whereby the tribes’ rights, cultural identity and integrity and their historical struggle are recognized and whereby the tribes can meaningfully participate in their own development. It wanted enshrined in an organic act for a Cordillera autonomous region the establishment of a regional peace-keeping force which should have not only modern military features but also culturally rooted ones and with the CPLA as the core group.

The CBA. It is a confederation of tribes. It had its immediate roots in the tribal organizations, particularly the United Communities of the Cordillera (UCC) and the Kalinga-Bontoc Peace Pact Holders’ Association KBPPHA). The UCC was formed in Tiempo, Tubo, Abra in 1979 with the objective of consolidating the tribes for the protection and defense of their homelands and rights that were threatened by the Cellophil logging and pulp making operations in Abra. It was suspected of being a subversive movement. Many of its leaders and members were arrested or harassed causing the organization to have a short life. The Bontoc and Kalinga tribes affected by the proposed Chico Dam project had to use a different name in order to avoid being tagged as a subversive movement. The organization was called Kalinga Bontoc Peace Pact Holders Association KBPPHA). Pursuant to the agreement reached during its second congress held in Bontoc on January 23, 1984 to make the KBPPHA a Cordillera wide organization, KBPPHA was renamed Cordillera Bodong Association (CBA). The CBA had been in its earlier years supportive to the NPA for the latter helped organize it. It latter split from the CPP/NPA. There was also a split within the CBA. One group headed by its chairman Mario Yag-ao supported the CPLA. The other group headed by its Vice Chairman Daniel Ngayaan supported the NPA and the newly formed CPA. After the death of Ngayaan his group ceased to exist. The autonomy demand of the CBA included the recognition of the bilateral bodong as a fundamental basis for the socio-economic-political relationship among tribes and the ili as the basic political unit and the tribe’s territorial area as a larger political unit. It proposed a federation of tribes along ethnolinguistic groupings to be recognized as the equivalent of a province, and the confederation of tribes as the equivalent of a region.

The CPA. It was organized in Bontoc, Mt. Province on June 1-3, 1983 during a land congress called by the Cordillera Bodong Association. It was composed mostly of professionals. Initially its main purpose was the sourcing out of funds for the CBA and the tribes. Later, it became the umbrella organization of several organizations. Its main autonomy demands include the recognition of the ancestral domain of the tribes and their indigenous political systems that were still in practice and the control and management of the lands and resources of the autonomous region by the Cordillera autonomous government. It was the main organization that carried out a persistent and sustained lobby among members of the Constitutional Commission to provide for a Cordillera autonomous region in the new constitution. For several years the CPA remained the most consistent, persistent and implacable critic of the CPLA and its former chief Fr. Conrado Balweg. During the peace negotiation, the CPA after vacillating in its decision to join or not to join the Cordillera negotiating panel, finally rejected the slots in the negotiating panel given to it and instead decided to bring its demands directly to the National Government and to the National Democratic Front (NDF).

The CBC. Upon the suggestion of the presidential emissary this group was organized on November 11, 1986 to be the umbrella organization of all groups not linked to the CPLA/CBA in the peace negotiation. Most of the members of the CBC were professionals. The CPA did not want to be under the CBC in the negotiation. It claimed to have more organization members so it should be the umbrella organization during the peace talks, not CBC. The CBC died a natural death when the National Government decided later to deal only with the CPLA/CBA. During its membership in the first Cordillera negotiating panel it proposed that the regional charter should be evolved from the provincial charters and that autonomy of the provinces should be respected by the autonomous regional government. It proposed a Cordillera Regional Development Council as the interim regional set up pending the establishment of an autonomous region. This proposal minoritized the CPLA and CBA group. The latter rejected the proposal.

The new ROP Panel and the new CBA/CPLA panel signed the Interim Cordillera Regional Administration (ICRA) on June 9, 1987 at the Mansion in Baguio City amidst protests by some CBC and CPA members and Atty. Sergio Kawi who walked back and forth alone at the gate of the Mansion bearing a protest placard. The ICRA was the main basis for the issuance of Executive Order No. 220 by President Aquino.It had many provisions adopted in EO 220.


  1. Interim Cordillera Regional Administration, June 9, l987, Mansion, Baguio City
  2. A Northern Luzon People’s Agenda for a Just and Enduring Peace. A pamphlet distributed by the CPA during its convention held at the Baguio Convention Center on January 19, 1987.
  3. Interim Cordillera Autonomous Region (ICAR), 1987. (First regional autonomy set up proposed by the CBA/CPLA).
  4. Bahatan, Fernando Jr. Contemporary Struggle for Cordillera Regional Autonomy: A Chronology of Events with Annotations. 1995. Revised 2000. Computerized.
  5. ………………… Quo Vadis, Cordillera Autonomy? 2000. Computerized.
  6. Statement of Positions of the CBC on the Cordillera Peace Talks, on the Cordillera Autonomous Region, and on the CBA-CPLA proposed ICAR March 13, 1987.
  7. Manabo Pagta, adopted during the Fouth Congress of the CBA on Dec. 1,1986 at Manabo, Abra

6. Executive Order 220

After a total of seven months of peace talks President Aquino signed on July 15,1987 Executive Order No. 220 creating the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) consisting of the provinces of Abra, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga-Apayao (not yet separate provinces), Mountain Province and the City of Baguio. The CPLA considered EO 220 its minimum demand for a sustained peace in the Cordillera pending the establishment of an autonomous region.

6.1 Purposes and bodies created. CAR has three purposes:

  1. administer the affairs of the government in the region as defined in Sections 4 and 5 below ( of the executive order)
  2. accelerate the economic and social growth and development of the units of the region
  3. prepare for the establishment of the autonomous region in the Cordilleras.

6.2 Bodies. EO 220 created four new bodies, (1) the Regional Security Force (RSF) to assist in the defense and security of the region subject to guidelines issued by the President for this purpose after consultation with the CAR ,other organizations and appropriate agencies of the Government, (2) the Cordillera Regional Assembly (CRA) to act as the policy-formulating body which shall articulate and harmonize the interests and aspirations of the peoples of the Cordilleras, (3) the Cordillera Executive Board (CEB) to act as the development body and implementing arm of the CAR, (4) the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA, formerly called Cordillera Bodong Association) to act as a special commission within CAR under the supervision of the CEB. It main responsibilities are to promote respect for the customs and usages of the tribes concerned, to foster unity among the tribes, to promote regional confederation and the practice of direct democracy and collective leadership, to promote the communal social order and economic systems.

6.3 Protests Against the EO and attempts to abolish or amend it. The signing of EO 220 raised fears and concerns among some individuals, groups and local government units. There were a lot of protests from private groups against EO 220. The City of Baguio and the Province of Benguet including its 13 municipalities forwarded to higher authorities resolutions and petitions seeking exclusion from the coverage of the EO. There were cases filed in the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the EO. In later years the EO also did not sit well with the Cordillera solons who filed seven bills to abolish/amend the EO. There were two Senate bills also filed for the same purpose.

Details of the cases filed to the Supreme Courts and attempts to amend the EO are in number 9 of this paper.


  1. Executive Order 220
  2. A Compilation of Documents on the Evolution of the Autonomy Movement in the Cordillera, Part 1. Compiled by the Cordillera Executive Board.

7. Autonomy Provisions in the 1987 Philippine Constitution

While the Constitutional Commission was in the drafting/debating stage of a new Philippine Constitution, and while the peace talk between the Government Panel and the CBA/CPLA panel was on-going, the Cordillera People’s Alliance lobbied members of the Commission for the inclusion of the an autonomous region for the Cordillera in spite of oppositions from some Cordillera groups and local government officials. Regional autonomy for the Cordilleras and Muslim Mindanao was enshrined in the new constitution that was ratified by the Filipino people on February 2, 1987 in a plebiscite.

Section 15, Article X reads: There shall be created autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras consisting of provinces, cities,municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.

Section 18, Article X reads: The Congress shall enact an organic act for each autonomous region with the assistance and participation of the regional consultative commission composed of representatives appointed by the President from a list of nominees from muti-sectoral bodies. The organic act shall define the basic structure of government for the region consisting of the executive

department and legislative assembly, both of which shall be elective and representative of the constituent political units. The organic acts shall likewise provide for special courts with personal, family and property law jurisdiction consistent with the provisions of this Constitution and national laws.

The creation of the autonomous region shall be effective when approved by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite called for the purpose, provided that only provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographic areas voting favorably in such plebiscite shall be included in the autonomous region.


  1. The 1987 Philippine Constitution
  2. Journal of the Constitutional Commission on Regional Autonomy, Regular Session, 1986, Quezon City, Philippines (August 11-14)

8. Plebiscites of 1990 and 1998

Pursuant to the Philippine Constitution a plebiscite on RA 6766 (an act providing For an organic act for the Cordillera autonomous region) enacted by Congress on October 23, 1989 was held on January 30, 1990. The main advocate groups on autonomy and various leading personalities including politicians were not united in their stand. Some supported and campaigned for the organic act; others were opposed to it and campaigned against it. All the Cordillera provinces under CAR except the province of Ifugao voted against this organic act.

Researchers, members of the academe, and other individuals came up with the following reasons for the failure of the first plebiscite:

  • Lack of or inadequate information about the autonomy law and the concept of autonomy itself
  • Very short campaign period of only two months
  • Misinformation on autonomy and various provisions of the organic act
  • Non-readiness of the people for autonomy
  • People playing safe by voting “no” to what they did not understand
  • Campaign fund channeled to COMELEC

Malacanang believed that this first organic act was ratified and that Ifugao alone could constitute the autonomous region. It issued calls for the winding up of the regional bodies created under EO 220. Congress passed RA 6861 providing for the election of regional officials of the autonomous region. COMELEC prepared for the election. In the meanwhile the CBA/CPLA challenged Malacanang’s and COMELC’s positions in the Supreme Court and eventually won.. The Court’s ruling is given in number 10 of this paper.

A second plebiscite for a second organic act (RA 8438 enacted by Congress on Dec. 22, l997) was held on March 9, 1998. It was likewise rejected by all the provinces under CAR except the province of Apayao, which by then was a separate province. The following were the reasons for the failure of the second plebiscite as gathered by some researchers who interviewed several informants:

  • Limited campaign period (Feb. 5-March 5, 1998)..
  • Copies of the organic act were released and distributed only in the first two weeks of Feb.
  • Delayed release of plebiscite funds to the COMELEC which announced that the plebiscite may be reset
  • Delayed release of information and education fund on the organic act
  • Channeling of the IEC funds to Governors and City Mayor which caused suspicion that the funds would be used for the politicians campaign in the election which was not far away from the date of the plebiscite
  • Ban on political advertisements which included IEC on the plebiscite
  • Very active “no” campaign by church group members and the FLAG
  • Persistent mis / dis-information on many provisions of the organic act causing fears among the voters particularly DEC and other government employees.
  • Questionable leadership credibility. Many believed that incumbent politicians will run for regional offices.
  • After the second rejection there were no groups really determined to push for a third organic act in the immediate future (up to 2010.). There were some attempts by a few individuals but these attempts were not able to have a solid support. The CAR Regional Development Council started discussing a third try but to my understanding its timetable for a third plebiscite is several years or even a decade or more away.


  1. Advancing Regional Autonomy in the Cordillera – A Source Book, by the Cordillera Studies Center, Baguio City and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Manila, 1994.
  2. Garado, Ernesto. Last Call for Cordillera Unity for Autonomy. A discussion paper. Computerized
  3. …………………… Cordillera Autonomy: A Historical Perspective, A discussion paper. Computerized.
  4. Chronology of Events in the Autonomy Movement in the Cordilleras. CBA file.
  5. A Compilation of Positions and Jurisprudence on Executive Order 220, Cordillera Autonomy,and RA 67 & RA 8438. Compiled by the Cordillera Executive Board.

9. Oppositions to EO 220 and Attempts to Abolish/Amend it

The constitutionality of EO 220 was raised to the Supreme Court by the CBC and a group of four individuals. The CBC (G.R. No. 79956) argued that EO 220 created an “Interim Autonomous Region of the Cordilleras” thus contravening the Constitution. The group of four persons (G.R. No. 82217) argued that by issuing EO 220 the President, in the exercise of her legislative powers prior to the convening of the First Congress under the 1987 Constitution, has virtually pre-empted Congress from its mandated task of enacting an organic act and created an Autonomous Region in the Cordillera.

The Supreme Court consolidated the two petitions. On January 29, 1990 , it dismissed the petitions as unfounded for lack of merit. Among other things the Supreme Court said:

  • EO 220 did not establish an autonomous government. It created a region, covering a specified area for administrative purpose with the main objective of coordinating the planning and implementation of programs and services. The bodies created do not supplant the existing local
  • government structures, nor are they autonomous governmental agencies. They merely constitute the mechanism for an “umbrella” that brings together the existing local governments, the agencies of the National Government, the ethnolinguistic groups of tribes and non-governmental organizations in a concerted effort toward development in the Cordillera. The CAR is not a public corporation or a territorial and political subdivision. It does not have a separate and juridical personality, unlike provinces, cities and municipalities. Speculation and a resort to probabilities are insufficient to cause the invalidation of EO 220.

Cordillera solons separately filed 7 bills seeking the abolition of EO 220 and creating an ordinary region for the Cordilleras. There were also two Senate bills seeking same purpose. None of the bills reached second or third reading.


  1. G.R. No. 79956
  2. G.R. No. 82217
  3. Bahatan, Fernando Jr. An Attempt to Amend or Repeal Executive Order 220. A paper presented at a Regional Forum on Autonomy at the Benguet State University, La Trinidad, Benguet.
  4. ……………………. Lessons and Insights on the Peace Process and Agreement between the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) and the Republic of the Philippines (ROP). A paper presented during the North-South Dialogue and Discourses on Peace and Development held at the Mountain Lodge, Baguio City, November 7-8, 2005.
  5. House Bill Nos. 1348,3168, 4313,1422, 93, 71, 1562
  6. Senate Bill Nos. 889, 1371.

10. Supreme Court Decisions relative to Cordillera Autonomy

The first decision of the Supreme Court regarding autonomy in the Cordilleras was on the petition of the CBA/CPLA challenging the position of the Executive branch that the first organic act was ratified even if only Ifugao province alone voted favorably.

On December 4, 1990 the Supreme Court in Ordillo et al (GR No. 93054) ruled that one province alone cannot constitute an autonomous region. The Court stated:

  • Wherefore the petition is hereby granted. Resolution No. 2259 of the Commission on Election in so far as it upholds the creation of the autonomous region, the February 14, 1990 memorandum of the Secretary of Justice, the February 5, 1990 memorandum of the Executive Secretary Administrative Order No. 160, and Republic Act No. 6861 are declared null and void while Executive Order No. 220 is declared to be still in force and effect until properly repealed or amended.

Another Supreme Court decision was on the petition (Motion for Reconsideration) of Atty. Nestor Atitiw et al (G.R. No. 143374) raising the following issues as remolded by the Supreme Court itself:

  1. Whether the assailed special provisions in R.A. No. 8760 (2000 GAA) is a rider and as such is unconstitutional;
  2. Whether the Philippine Government, through Congress, can unilaterally repeal/amend E.O. No. 220; and
  3. Whether the Republic should be ordered to honor its commitments as spelled out in E.O. No. 220.

The Supreme Court, among others, said:

Except for the contention that the assailed paragraph is unconstitutional for being a rider, the rest of the petitioners’ arguments look into the wisdom and efficacy of said provision, matters which are beyond the Court’s power of judicial review. The arguments of petitioners should properly be addressed to the political branches of government. While the Court has resolved to rake jurisdiction of this petition which questions acts of the political branches, the principle remains that it is powerless to review the wisdom, merits, or propriety thereof, as it may strike them down only on either two grounds: (1) unconstitutionality or illegality, and (2) grave abuse of discretion.

Petitioners’ grievance that the budget for the CAR’s administration and operations is unreasonable or insufficient should be raised before Congress. It involves the question of wisdom of the law which is beyond this Court to inquire. An inquiry of that sort amounts to a derogation of the principle of separation of powers. Courts have no authority to grant relief against the evils that may result from the operation of unwise and imperfect legislation; unless its flaw partakes the nature of a constitutional infirmity.

From another fundamental standpoint, however,petitioners’ contention that Congress cannot unilaterally amend or repeal E.O. 220 must be rejected. There is no such thing as an irrepealable law. Nothing could prevent Congress from amending or repealing E.O. 220 in the event it decides to do so .While it is true that E. O. No. 220 is a law as it was promulgated by then President Aquino in the exercise of her extraordinary legislative power under the Freedom Constitution, said E.O. is no different from any other law. It is subject to amendment or repeal by the plenary power of Congress. Since the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, the power to make, amend, or repeal laws has been lodged exclusively with Congress, except to the extent reserved to the people through initiative and referendum.

The Court is without authority to compel the Executive branch to implement the provisions of E.O. No. 220 or to restore its budgetary allocation to its previous level, As correctly pointed out by the Solicitor General, no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.

The three branches of government must discharge their respective functions within the limits of authority conferred by the Constitution. Under the principle of separation of powers the Congress, the President, and the Judiciary may not encroach on the fields allocated to the other branches of government. The legislature is generally limited to the enactment of laws, the executive to the enforcement of laws, and the judiciary to their interpretation and application to cases and controversies. The Court has consistently stressed that “the doctrine of the separation of powers calls for the legislative, executive and the judiciary departments being left alone to discharge their duties as they see fit.” The concept of separation of powers presupposes mutual respect by and between the three departments of the government. Therefore the implementation of E.O .No. 220 is an executive prerogative while the sourcing of funds to support the CAR’s activities is within the province of the legislature. Absent any grave abuse of discretion, the Court cannot correct the acts of either the Executive or Congress in respect to the policies concerning the CAR.


The creation of autonomous regions does not signify the establishment of a sovereignty distinct from that of the Republic, as it can be installed only “within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines”. Under the 1987 Constitution, the creation of the autonomous regions shall be effective when approved by a majority of the votes cast by the constituent units in a plebiscite called for the purpose. In the case of the Cordilleras, the overwhelming majority of the people had voted against regional autonomy

Petitioners cannot charge the Government of reneging on its obligation under the peace agreement. Precisely, the Government had come out with the Organic Act for the Cordillera autonomous region and submitted the same for ratification by the people. It was not called upon to ensure the ratification of the Organic Act by the people.


The Court is sympathetic to the pleas of petitioners. The institution of the instant petition underscores the pressing need for regional autonomy for the Cordillera people, a number of whom fought hard and sacrificed their lives if only to advance their cause for autonomy and self-determination. From the standpoint of policy, regional autonomy is also a means of solving existing serious peace and order problem and the secessionist movements. Establishing a system of governance for the Cordillera people that promotes their way of life and heritage, recognizes their indigenous rights, and allows them to chart their destiny as a people within the framework of national sovereignty still remains as an unanswered call. It is hoped that Congress will pass another Organic Act which is finally acceptable to the people of the Cordilleras.


  1.  Ordillo et al (G. R. No. 93054)
  2. Atty. Nestor Atitiw et al (G.R. No. 143374)

11. Observations and Concluding Remarks

  1.  In the struggle for contemporary Cordillera regional autonomy, various advocate groups and community leaders were not united on the contents of an organic act as well as its formulation and information processes. Some campaigned for the organic acts passed by Congress while others campaigned against them. The pursuit of Cordillera regional autonomy had been decorated with splits between and within groups, with protests and counter-protests, with petitions and counter-petitions, with court cases and counter-court cases and many more showing the showing the intellectual finesse, accommodation of opinion, and vibrancy of Cordillerans.
  2. The making of a third organic act to my mind is unlikely in the next three years or until 2010 because there are no groups or local government units strongly advocating and lobbying for it. The Cordillera solons are not yet one and eager in pushing for it. The move to change the present Constitution and with a federal form of government threatens or is sidelining the pursuit for Cordillera regional autonomy under the 1987 Constitution provision. ( A Cordillera Federal State for that matter may not be found in a Federal Republic of the Philippines. The Cordilleras may just be a part of a larger federal state.)
  3. Despite its drawbacks and mal/mis-implementation, EO 220 is superior to an ordinary region. It had the following gains:

The struggle or pursuit for Cordillera regional autonomy is valid and just having roots in the customary laws and practices of the indigenous tribes in the Cordilleras and their defense of their homeland and culture from external threats, and their love and passion for freedom and independence. While the tribal communities were generally independent from each other, even fighting against each other, they could unite and cooperate when the homeland or cultural integrity of one or more tribes was threatened by an outside force.

  • It created the Cordillera Administrative Region. While politicians and other groups asked for a separate region for the provinces under the old Mountain Province, their efforts did not succeed.
  • It brought about the establishment of various regional offices of the national departments thus causing the employment of thousands of Cordillerans, many of whom were appointed to high positions such as regional directors, assistant regional directors, or section heads which was quite difficult for a native Cordilleran to get when the Cordillera provinces were either with Region 1 or with Region 2.
  • It brought about a better climate of peace and security in the region. There was relatively less destruction to government properties and installation by armed groups, and counter-insurgency expenses of the military in the Cordillera were greatly reduced.
  • It pushed forward a Cordillera wide consciousness or identity. A greater majority of the people of the Cordillera now prefer to be called Cordilleran rather than Igorot thus enhancing the feeling among Cordillerans as one people or one nation.
  • It is one thing to sign a peace agreement, and another thing to implement it properly.
  • A perusal of R.A.8371 otherwise known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 shows that much of the demands of the autonomy advocates such as rights to ancestral lands or domains, right to cultural integrity, right to decide on the use and development of natural resources, etc. were recognized in this law


  1. Bahatan, Fernando Jr. Lessons and Insights on the Peace Process and Agreement between the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) and the Republic of the Philippines (ROP). (A paper presented during the North-South Dialogue and Discourses on Peace and Development held at the Mountain Lodge Hotel, Baguio City, on November 7-8, 2005)
  2. Garado, Ernesto. Cordillera Autonomy: A Historical Perspective. (A discussion paper)
  3. R.A. 8371 (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997).