A few days ago in the University of the Cordilleras, Executive Director Juan Ngalob of the National Economic Development Authority-Cordillera Administrative Region (NEDA-CAR) reported the findings of a survey done about a year ago. The survey covered a few thousand respondents, 2,809 to be exact, and is supposedly representative of the pulse of the voting age population of the Cordillera. Ngalob claims that random sampling or a type of random sampling was used.
The survey is supposedly 95% accurate within a small margin of error. The salient points on the survey on the respondents:
• 57.5% are aware of the constitutional provision for the creation of an autonomous region in the Cordilleras
• 51.8% understand autonomy as involving self-government
• 30.0% believe that autonomy involves owning and controlling resources
• 23.9% agree that autonomy is generating and utilizing one’s financial resources
• 11.0% believe that autonomy is enacting and enforcing own laws
• 9.2% expressed that autonomy is synonymous to “self-determination”
• only 16.9% expressed that they have no notion of autonomy
• 64% are not aware of the legislative powers of the proposed autonomous government under the plebiscites earlier conducted on Cordillera regional autonomy
• 65.9% believe that the proposed organic acts of the past were rejected because people did not understand the content of the organic acts
• 73.1% favor the creation of a Cordillera region
• 30.5% believe that the Cordillera is not yet ready for autonomy while 28.7% expressed with certainty that the Cordillera is ready for autonomy
• asked on what must be done after the failure of the two plebiscites on Cordillera regional autonomy, only 7.5% expressed that they are not in favor of autonomy or do not see any need for the region to become autonomous
Based on the above, it is easy to see that the call for regional autonomy continues to find strong support in the Cordillera. There may be disunities what would constitute autonomy or on whether the Cordillera is immediately ready for autonomy. Nevertheless, there is a strong support for Cordillera autonomy whether or not that autonomy is to be realized now or in the long term.
The view of this column is that “readiness” is a function of governance. More precisely, it is a function of government support. Government must support, or more accurately, work for the realization of autonomy. The provision of Cordillera regional autonomy is a constitutional task of government in the first place. The realization of Cordillera autonomy is required under the constitution.
There is no legal obstacle government to grant Cordillera interim regional autonomy. Of course, Philippine laws require the organic act to be submitted to a plebiscite but there is no legal obstacle for government to realize autonomy even before the enactment of an organic act generally acceptable to Cordillera people. Thus, there is the option of providing interim autonomy even before an organic act generally acceptable to Cordillerans is formulated. Of course, the autonomy will be “fake.” But it can be a “fake” one because it is interim in the first place. Even as interim autonomy is granted, government must continue to be at the forefront of working for an organic act that is generally acceptable to the Cordillerans.
Hence, government must lead by working for or implementing an interim regional autonomous government while continuing its work towards the creation of an organic act that is generally acceptable to Cordillerans.
Is government really sincere in realizing autonomy? I do not think so. Government is shortcutting processes on obtaining a free and informed consent on development projects, including those on mining. When people are confronted with big mining corporations, mining projects are still implemented even with the opposition of the people.
I would not even be surprised if some form of autonomy or display of a so-called free-and-prior-informed-consent (FPIC) would be invoked by government to facilitate the exploitation of resources in the Cordillera at the expense of Cordillerans themselves and their brother Filipinos in the lowlands. Thus, even if I express openness to interim autonomy as genuine autonomy is worked for, I am also aware that pseudo-autonomy or interim autonomy can be used as cover for exploitation and oppression.
At the local level, even if there are funds for the conduct of actions related to autonomy, the funds are not utilized. The funds are even so little and yet not used optimally. NEDA-CAR must improve its performance on this matter. For instance, according to sources, a measly P33 million was allocated by the national government related to Cordillera autonomy for a number of years but an even smaller P5 million were spent so far and the spending was not even transparent. Whew! #
(The writer maintains a blog at www.geocities.cim/arturoboquiren. Comments can be coursed through www.nordis.net, firstname.lastname@example.org, and +63927-536-8431)