BAGUIO CITY –The Regional Development Council (RDC) – CAR hosted a regional conference that brought the discourse on Cordillera autonomy and Bangsamoro basic law side by side. The conference held on June 10, 2015 at the Baguio Convention Center aimed to provide better understanding of the two distinct autonomy movements and to elicit reactions from the stakeholders.
One of the speakers,Dr. Steven Rood of the Asia Foundation, explained that the move for autonomy in Bangsamoro was spurred by the political upset experienced in Mindanao. He noted that the armed insurgencies in the region were initially motivated by the need to preserve the Moros’ cultural identity to address the perceived empowerment of Christian-dominated provinces.
This is in contrast to the view that the struggle for Cordillera autonomy began with the peoples’ opposition against the Cellophil and with the Chico River dam, not with the political upheaval but with the violation of local control over resources.He explained that unlike in the Cordilleras, the Moros have Islam as a common coin of discourse which allowed groups such as the MNLF to get material support from foreign countries such as Malaysia and Libyato further advance their pursuit for autonomy. While in the Cordillera, the geographical set-up of the region hindered communication between the Ilisor villages, hence the reason for less discourse on autonomy.
Another speaker, Dr. Alex Brillantes, said that the country is not the only one that experienced these kinds of social and political upheavals;rather autonomy is an internationally felt social phenomenon. He shared the experiences of Canada (Quebec), Spain (Basque), United Kingdom (Northern Ireland), Indonesia (Aceh), Thailand (Pattani State), Czech and Slovak Republic and then tackled how the movements differed from each other. He described the pursuit for autonomy as a “no one size fits all” situation. He further explained that the politico-administrative remedies that maybe adopted by the country before considering armed struggle are many and varied.These include a law, an executive order, which should not generate second class citizens among its constituents.
Dr. Brillantes suggested that the term “failure” be avoided when referring to the past two attempts to gain Cordillera autonomy, as foreign countries took centuries to develop and improve their own politico-administrative mechanisms. He further stressed that the pursuit for regional autonomy is an ‘evolutionary process’ where the region must build from its own gains.
Dr. Jose Santos Dacanay III from the Institute of Management of UP Baguio, on the other hand,showed evidence that most of the LGUsin the Cordillera are highly dependenton government transfers such as IRA, as the source of revenue;and to spur development, the autonomous regional government must find ways to generate revenues that are not IRA-based. On this note, Mayor Mauricio Domogan of Baguio City clarified that compared to the revenue transfers stipulated in HB 4649, the Bangsamoro Basic Law demands greater share and control over the sources of revenue. He explained that over and above the proposed 75% share in national taxes, the National Government is obliged to provide additional funding for the region’s infrastructure,a block grant from the national internal revenue, and a Special Development Fund of Php 7 billion for the first year, and Php 10 billion for the next five years.
The regional conference was able to elicit valuable insights from stakeholders which may become useful as the autonomy bill for the Cordilleras, HB 4649, shall undergo public hearings.
by Mark Allen Ponciano, SPCAR