Cordillera Stakeholders’ convene, talks on autonomy and federalism underscored

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The Regional Development Council (RDC)- CAR, through its Social Preparation of CAR into an Autonomous Region (SPCAR) Program, spearheaded a two- day Stakeholders’ Conference on Autonomy and Federalism last May 30-31, 2016 at the Hotel Elizabeth, Baguio City.

The conference aimed to enhance the understanding of autonomy stakeholders on the concepts of regional autonomy and federalism towards a better convergence on the mode of self- governance to be advocated in the region.

Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan, in his welcome message,expressed the need for newly elected and re- elected local chief executives in the region to unite in realizing the clamour for autonomy and for them to consider adopting the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) draft to get a more acceptable organic draft that will be presented to the 17th Congress.

Experts from different fields shared their insights during the conference.

Judge Cleto Villacorta III, of RTC Branch 229 Quezon City in the topic “Constitution, IPRA, and Regional Autonomy,”stressed that there is no legal impediment for the Cordilleras in the realization of an autonomous region since it is mandated by the 1987 Constitution.

Prof. Edmund Tayao, LOGODEF Executive Director, mentioned that federalism does not jeopardize the advocacy on autonomy, in fact, federalism may strengthen it.In his lecture on the “Cordillera Options: Autonomy or Federalism”, Tayao said that the Cordillera is in a better position to achieve autonomy because its local governments are contiguously located near each other, unlike in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) where provinces are geographically separated from mainland Mindanao.He also encouraged the advocates not to be disappointed by the past failed plebiscites, instead he urged the advocates to aggressively pursue autonomy since it is mandated in the 1987 Constitution and the shift to a federal form of government will take time.

NCMF Commissioner, Atty. Mohammad Al- Amin Julkipli,discussed the “Political Aspect of Regional Autonomy” andthe existing challenges and issues that hinder the operation of the ARMM. One issue is the lack of fiscal autonomy by the regional government. He also mentioned that the ARMM is still in search for relevance and identity due to: failed local governance, conflicts from double autonomy, and resources to local governments not translated to community development.

Julkipli said that the shortcomings of the ARMM could be used by the Cordilleras in crafting the desired autonomy law that is best acceptable to the region.

Ms. Victoria Tauli- Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of the Indigenous Peoples, stressed that the pursuit for autonomy has always been anchored on the right to self- determination.On her discussion on“Self- Determination and Autonomy”, she added that the Cordillera’s quest for autonomy sprung from the Chico Dam and Cellophil Project experiences during the Marcos era.

Ifugao Provincial Administrator, Atty. Evelyn Dunuan, gave a lecture on “Enhancing Cordillera Indigenous Knowledge and Culture through Autonomy”. She highlighted the need for an autonomous region to enhance regional identity. Dunuan said that it is for a more holistic and integrated observation of the Cordillera IPs’/ ICCs’ customs, religious beliefs, traditions, IKSP, and our rights to assert our character and identity as people.

Atty.Delmar Cariño, BENECO Legal Counsel,explained the “Interface between IPRA and Autonomy Bill”. He noted that the IPRA and Autonomy bill can co- exist. He said that House Bill 4649 sought the establishment of a political autonomous identity while the IPRA is a legislative act that recognizes IP rights and the use of traditional system by the IPs and ICCs.

Director Leila Magda Rivera of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM)espoused certain considerations in crafting the provisions on fiscal management.She underscored the “Fiscal Management in an Autonomous Regional Government”saying that autonomy is subject to less interference from the National Government. Rivera said that the regional government should generate its own revenues and resources, to invest in the right priorities, and to deliver measurable results.

Autonomy stakeholders agreed to continue the advocacy for autonomy while waiting for the incoming President’s actions on the campaign for federalism.

Inputs to improve HB 4649 were likewise solicited from the participants.These include the institutionalization of ‘Schools of Living Tradition’ in every town in the Cordilleras, embedding of indigenous governance to the political structure of an Autonomous Government, conduct of cultural mapping to determine major ethnic groups in the region, utilization of existing research papers on indigenous governance and customary laws, inclusion of indigenous laws in Law Schools in the Cordillera, embedding pertinent provisions of the IPRA in the Autonomy Bill, convergence of pertinent  provisions of BBL to reflect in the proposed HB, strengthening the powers of fiscal autonomy in the powers granted to the regional autonomy and conduct of an intense review of the local government code vis-à-vis the proposed HB.

In closing, Economic Development PSR Dr. Virgilio Bautista said that we should be proud as Cordillerans and be mindful that autonomy is for us. It is timely for the region to pass the bill,if we will wait for a perfect bill then autonomy in the region will have to wait for another president, he added.

Mt. Province elder, Mr. Jaime Dugao, said that talks about federalism should not confuse the Cordillera’s quest for autonomy. He mentioned that the Cordillera villages have been practicing some degree of autonomy and have been harmoniously working with the local government. Dugao advised the stakeholders that village level of governance can be adopted and developed for region wide self-governance. He cited Dap- ay, as an example, which coexisted with the present government. Dugao urged that all sectors must be consulted and that all the provinces, not only two or three,should constitute the autonomous region.

RDC-CAR Vice-chair and NEDA-CAR Director Milagros A. Rimando ensured that solicited inputs during the conference will be presented to the RDC Council for adoption.



Maridel P. Langbis, NEDA- SPCAR