MANKAYAN, BENGUET – Senior high school students of the Lepanto and Mankayan National High Schools participated in a one-day Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) activity organized by the provincial government of Benguet and NEDA-CAR on September 30. Autonomy advocate Joel Cervantes, himself an alumnus of Lepanto National High School, discussed the Cordillera’s pursuit of self-determination and autonomy and how it fits in the national administration’s push towards a federal form of government.

Cervantes emphasized that autonomy is a much more attainable goal for the Cordillera as it is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution as compared to the shift to a federal form of government which requires a constitutional amendment. He added that decentralization is the essence of federalism and establishing regional autonomy is a way to achieve this without waiting for any constitutional amendment. Cervantes also inspired the students by emphasizing the sacrifices made by past Cordillerans who fought to protect their ancestral domain and natural resources. The discussion on the history and purpose of autonomy to help give more control in the management and use of natural resources back to the Cordillerans struck a chord with the young participants of Mankayan as many, if not all, belong to mining families.

One students showed their interest in the practical consequences of regional autonomy and asked, “Since the current advocacy mentions the creation of responsive policies for the region, are there policies prepared for the autonomous region?”. Cervantes replied that the creation of responsive policies is the purpose of the regional assembly which will be part of the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera.

Students were eager to learn more about the details of Cordillera autonomy and the proposed bill. One student agreed to the idea of Cordillera autonomy but cautioned that “sana mas organized ang political leaders para hindi sayang kapag autonomous na ang Cordillera (our political leaders would hopefully be organized so that once the Cordillera is autonomous it wouldn’t be put to waste)”. Other students recognized that the past plebiscites failed due to a lack of information dissemination. On this note, one student said, “hopefully, everyone would be aware of this and of federalism”. Another student added “this IEC helped in opening our minds for better decision making”.

After the discussion, the senior high school students from both schools showcased their artistic talents in a literary and music competition. With the theme “youth and autonomy”, the students expressed their new-found knowledge through slogan and poster making, essay writing, and the creation of a jingle.

A similar event was conducted on the same day in Joaquin Smith National High School in Tuba, Benguet.