TINGLAYAN, KALINGA – The National Economic and Development Authority-CAR (NEDA-CAR) in coordination with the Professionals and Elders Association and Advocates for Christian and Education Empowerment, Incorporated (PEACE, Inc.) conducted a forum on the renewed pursuit of Cordillera Autonomy with members of the Cordillera Peoples’ Liberation Army (CPLA) on November 24 in Bugnay, Tinglayan. PEACE, Inc. is a civil society organization led by Cordillera autonomy pioneer and Bugnay elder Suplay Alunday.

Autonomy advocate Dr. Paulina Sawadan discussed the RDC-led pursuit of autonomy in which she emphasized the enhancement of Cordillera identity, the formulation of responsive policies for the region, and attainment of progress for the Cordillera through inclusive development. Sawadan, who worked closely with Father Conrado Balweg in drafting the provisions that would become Executive Order 220, recalled the late priest’s words, “nu intay ton pumanaw anattay, ton karagsakan otonomiya anamnama ibati tay kandida (when we die, we can be happy that autonomy is the hope we leave them)”.

Over 300 members of the CPLA participated in the forum where the armed opposition to the Chico River dam project and the other forms of development aggression in the 70s and 80s were remembered. Their recognized Chairman, Mailed Molina, urged to pursue the attainment of regional autonomy first as provided for in the Philippine Constitution prior to pursuing Federalism. The CPLA pledged to campaign for Cordillera autonomy on the condition that the sacrifices of the Cordillera Bodong Association (CBA) and the CPLA are given due recognition.

Bugnay is the home of Kalinga Pangat Macli-ing Dulag who, through the Bodong peace process, gathered support and became a leading figure in the resistance against the proposed Chico River Dam Project. His death on April 24 at the hands of the Philippine military ushered in a wave of national and international support for indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination and inclusive development. Dulag led the opposition to the building of the four Chico River dams that would have displaced hundreds of thousands in Kalinga and Mountain Province.

When the Philippine government abandoned the project and installed a new administration after the 1986 EDSA revolution, many of the Cordillera fighters gave up their arms and sought peace with the Philippine government through the Bodong, the same practice as to what Macli-ing Dulag would use to gather the tribes of the Cordillera. The Cordillerans were granted the opportunity to govern themselves through regional autonomy.

The RDC has since then led the renewed pursuit of regional autonomy after the two failed plebiscites for Cordillera autonomy in 1990 and 1998.