(Left) Atty. Leilene Gallardo points out that the IPRA and the autonomy bill can reinforce each other. (Right) Around 80 Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representatives (IPMRs) from the municipal and barangay levels of Benguet with Michael Umaming of the NCIP-CAR kick-off the series of workshops in Baguio City on October 28, 2017. (Photo courtesy of NCIP-CAR)

BAGUIO CITY – The regional office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP-CAR) conducted a series of workshops on IP rights and regional autonomy for Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representatives (IPMRs) of Benguet, Mountain Province, Abra and Apayao in the last quarter of 2017. Around 200 municipal and barangay IPMRs participated in the workshops. Speaking in the workshops were newsman Ramon Dacawi, Atty. Leilene Gallardo of the Department of Justice, and Michael Umaming of the NCIP.

Michael Umaming facilitated discussions on the historical background of the autonomy pursuit. He associated this as parallel foundations and experiences when the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) was passed in 1997.

Atty. Leilene Gallardo led discussions on the details of the House Bill 5343 or “An Act Establishing the Autnomous Region of Cordillera” and its similarities and differences with the IPRA. She noted that the current bill defines a Cordilleran as a Philippine citizen who is domiciled in the region regardless of ethnic background.

In one of the workshops, Ramon Dacawi acknowledged that Cordillera autonomy has been overtaken by other national issues and that the autonomy pursuit of Muslim Mindanao has been prioritized over our own. He mentions that the IPMRs should take an active part in drawing attention to the clamor for autonomy.

Dacawi proposed that the Unity Gong relay during Cordillera month should not end within the 6 provinces of Cordillera but onwards to the House of Representatives in Batasan, Quezon City where the president delivers the State of the Nation Address in the same month.

He inspired the participants when he said, “We need to show the national government that we are serious in achieving autonomy”. He challenged the IPMRs, “Show them your interest, make noise for autonomy”.

There are 270 IPMRs throughout the region at the barangay, municipal and provincial levels. They are mandated to represent indigenous peoples in local legislative bodies as stated in Chapter IV of the IPRA.

This endeavor was supported by the Regional Development Council (RDC-CAR) and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA-CAR) which recognize the important role of elders as decision-makers in their respective villages/barangays anchored on the indigenous governance systems in the region (by Marlo T. Lubguban, NEDA- SPCAR and Michael Umaming, NCIP-CAR).