Continuing advocacy – Former DENR Regional Executive Director Clarence Baguilat his advocacy for regional autonomy as he spoke to members of community-based forest management organizations of Cordillera last November 7.

BAGUIO CITY – Former DENR-CAR Regional Executive Director, Clarence Baguilat met with members of community-based forest management (CBFM) organizations last November 7 in the DENR-CAR training center to discuss the need to achieve autonomy for sustainable development in the region. With the support of the current Regional Executive Director, Engr. Ralph Pablo, DENR highlighted the benefits of Cordillera autonomy particularly in the more localized management of natural resources.

As a member of the Regional Development Council (RDC), DENR-CAR continues to advocate for Cordillera autonomy. DENR-CAR has continuously coordinated with NEDA-CAR, as secretariat of the RDC, to provide information dissemination on autonomy for their stakeholders. Cordillera autonomy was adopted as the overarching theme for regional development since 2006. It is seen as the best way to achieve sustainable development in the region.

Baguilat recalled his time as executive director where he had difficulties implementing mandates from the DENR central office because they were not always appropriate to the Cordillera region. He noted that there are many good policies coming from the central offices of line agencies, “Agpayso, bagay iti regions. Ngem nu mapan ditoy Cordillera, haan nga bagay (True, these are suitable for the regions. But when it comes to the Cordillera, it’s not)”. He added that it is especially difficult in DENR-CAR to apply these policies given the unique terrain and established traditions of the people.

One of the significant policies that have affected the region is P.D. 705 which stated that areas above 18 degrees in slope are forest land resulting in limited agriculture and development in the region and rendering current occupants of such lands as squatters.

Baguilat also cited the injustices in the use of natural resources in the Cordillera. Cordillera has been a source for vast natural resources for hydropower and the mining and logging industry. However, the region has not been able to reap benefits from these corporations since they pay their income taxes at their headquarters which are mostly located in the National Capital Region.

In the proposed organic act, several sections provide for Cordillerans to have more control of natural resource management, corporate taxation, land use preference, among others. The proposed organic act, with pending bills in both Houses of Congress, was also designed to complement the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act.

Currently, there are four versions of the proposed Organic act, House Bill 5343 signed by all CAR Representatives, and Senate Bill 1678, 1923, and 1930 by Senators Migs Zubiri, Bam Aquino and JV Ejercito. These versions, however, are supportive of each other.