Once again the Cordillera Region’s desire to be autonomous was brought to the national front.  This time it is at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City with no less than former President Fidel V. Ramos leading national and regional officials in beating the Cordillera Unity Gong.

This was during the Am-Among Di Cordillera, which was held on Sept. 13 at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.  It was jointly organized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Cordillera Regional Development Council (RDC-CAR), and the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) to commemorate the Sipat which was held on the same day 32 years ago at Mount Data Hotel in Bauko, Mountain Province.

Aside from President Ramos, other national officials who attended the activity were Secretary Jesus Dureza and Dir. Susana Guadalupe Marcaida of OPAPP, Secretary Adelino Sitoy of PLLO, and Assistant Secretary Annie Marie Paz Banaag of PCOO. Assistant Secretary Mercedita Sombilla (NEDA Regional Development Office) was also present to grace the affair.

Among the regional officials who participated in the activity were RDC Chairperson and Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan, RDC Vice-Chairperson and NEDA-CAR Director Milagros Rimando, Ifugao Governor Pedro Mayam-o, and Abra Vice-Governor Ronald Balao-as.  Heads of regional line agencies include:  Directors Helen Tibaldo (PIA), Nancy Bantog (DOST), Ma. Geraldine Casipit (CHED), Myrna Pablo (DTI), Jennilyn Avelino (DOTC), Marlo Iringan (DILG), Cameron Odsey (DA), and RDC Secretary and Assistant Regional Director Jedidia Aquino (NEDA).  Also present were RDC Private Sector Representative Emerita Fuertes, several Cordillera mayors, Sangguniang Panlalawigan members, members of the Philippine Army, CPLA members, and other autonomy advocates.

In his speech, President Ramos encouraged everyone to be united in diversity, saying that the uniqueness of each group should be respected. He also expressed hope that the region will be successful in its pursuit of autonomy, saying that “there is always light at the end of the tunnel”.

For his part, Secretary Dureza gave the State of the Peace Process Address.  He said he is happy to note that for the first time in many years, the Cordillera Region is showing a united front where autonomy is concerned.  He witnessed how Cordillera Congressmen, Governors, Mayors, and heads of regional line agencies joined together and participated in various national and regional events to show their support to the region’s pursuit of autonomy.

Meanwhile, Secretary Sitoy promised that the PLLO will do its best to have the autonomy bill certified as urgent.

A part of the event was a mini-photo exhibit of the Cordillera struggle for autonomy.  Displayed at the program venue, it was officially opened before the program, with President Ramos cutting the ceremonial ribbon.  The Taod ni Ibadoy Cultural Group, comprising secondary students of the Kamora National High School in Kabayan, Benguet, also presented a play showing the Cordillerans’ struggle for self-determination.

The Sipat was undertaken as a spiritual step to the forging of a peace pact between the government and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army.    This momentous event was seen as the beginning of the cessation of hostilities between the AFP forces and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army.  Then President Corazon Aquino, representing the government, gave a Bible, a rosary, and an armalite in exchange for CPLA leader Conrado Balweg’s offering of a shield, a spear, head ax, and bolo. The establishment of the Cordillera Autonomous Region was one of the agreements in this peace pact, and this was legally recognized through the 1987 Constitution and Executive Order 220.

To give the Cordillerans time to celebrate this important event, President Rodrigo Duterte, through his Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, signed Proclamation 575 declaring September 13, 2018 a regional special (non-working) holiday. xxx