EDITORIAL
The Manila Times Internet Edition, Saturday, September 06 2008

There are few milestones in the Cordillera’s quest for limited freedom. One was the termination of the war in 1986 between the Philippine Government and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army led by rebel-priest Conrado Balweg. A year later President Aquino signed Executive Order 220, creating the Cordillera Administrative Region, a poor substitute for a full-blown autonomous jurisdiction. The head of the National Economic Development Authority regional office chairs the CAR.

Politics, jurisdictional disputes, parochial interests and poor leadership have derailed efforts at achieving self-rule. In the two referendums, lack of information and discussion on the pluses and minuses of self-government also failed to sway the Cordillerans to stamp their approval.

The pro-autonomy lobby is pushing for the unification of the Cordillera under one constitutional tent, even under a federal system. It is interesting that under the resolution introduced by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. in the Senate, the Cordillera Autonomous Region, Region 1 and Region 2 are proposed to become the Federal State of Northern Luzon.

AS the drumbeat for an enlarged Autonomous Muslim Region or a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity grows louder in Mindanao, the Lumad people have begun to press Malacañang for self-rule. Other minorities in Mindanao, and the Visayas are eyeing self-determination, spurred by the demands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and worried by possibilities that a Bangsamoro entity would swallow up Mindanao’s teeming ethnics.

Somnolence, ironically, drapes the hills and valleys of the Cordillera region, where a home-grown liberation army challenged the Corazon Aquino administration in the 1980s. Guerilla power drew strength from native pride in the Cordillerans’ history, culture, faith, traditions and civilization. Recognizing the region’s potential for prosperity, leadership and the growth of its political institutions, the framers of the 1987 Constitution voted to grant Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera self-autonomy consistent with their history and aspirations.

The Cordillera hinterland—which includes the provinces of Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao and Kalinga, and the City of Baguio—have failed two times to create the Cordillera Autonomous Region. In the first referendum on January 30, 1990, Ifugao was the only province to vote for self-rule. In the second plebiscite on March 7, 1998, only Apayao province chose autonomy.

There are few milestones in the Cordillera’s quest for limited freedom. One was the termination of the war in 1986 between the Philippine Government and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army led by rebel-priest Conrado Balweg. A year later President Aquino signed Executive Order 220, creating the Cordillera Administrative Region, a poor substitute for a full-blown autonomous jurisdiction. The head of the National Economic Development Authority regional office chairs the CAR.

Politics, jurisdictional disputes, parochial interests and poor leadership have derailed efforts at achieving self-rule. In the two referendums, lack of information and discussion on the pluses and minuses of self-government also failed to sway the Cordillerans to stamp their approval.

The pro-autonomy lobby is pushing for the unification of the Cordillera under one constitutional tent, even under a federal system. It is interesting that under the resolution introduced by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. in the Senate, the Cordillera Autonomous Region, Region 1 and Region 2 are proposed to become the Federal State of Northern Luzon.

Representatives Mauricio Domogan of Baguio City and Samuel Dangwa of Benguet have restarted the bandwagon for an autonomous Cordillera Region. In a recent meeting with regional office chiefs in Manila, they asked Malacañang to support a new information drive with fresh money. A third plebiscite on autonomy would be more promising, the congressmen assured the meeting.

Would it? A survey conducted by NEDA from October 2007 to January 2008 found out that 41 percent of the respondents were not aware of the constitutional provision on autonomy, 64 percent did not know about the legislative power proposed for the CAR, and 66 percent were undecided on the issue of autonomy.

The survey results do not look promising. The level of consciousness for a full-throated home rule is depressingly low. The militancy of the regional leaders and popular support do not inspire confidence. Unless the congressional leaders, governors and mayors—together with the private sector—unite to assert their aspiration at the national policy-making forum and mobilize popular vote, Cordillera may be the last region to achieve autonomy in the community of self-governing jurisdictions.