I. The Regional Development Council-CAR and the Agenda for Regional Autonomy in Context
The Cordillera Administrative Region was created on July 15, 1987 per E.O. 220 to administer the regional affairs of government, accelerate the economic and social growth and development of the units of the region, and prepare for the establishment of the autonomous region. To pursue CAR’S purposes, the CAR bodies were organized: the Cordillera Regional Assembly as the policy-formulating entity and the Cordillera Executive Board as the development arm.
In Year 2000, Congress did not provide budget for the CAR bodies and were subsequently de-activated, a situation that left a vacuum in regional coordination and in the pursuit of CAR’S purposes. In July 2001, the President, in response to the initiatives of the Region’s leaders, issued E.O. 30 that constituted a Cordillera Regional Development Council “which shall be the primary institution for setting the direction of economic and social development in CAR and through which regional development efforts shall be coordinated”. E.O. 30 stipulates that E.O. 325, which is the enabling law of RDCs in all regions, shall be applicable to the CAR. With the CAR bodies de-activated and a regular RDC organized, it can be said that the first two original purposes of the CAR are somewhat addressed but the third purpose of preparing the region for the establishment of the autonomous region was sidelined.
Yet E.O. 220 remains in force unless repealed or amended per Supreme Court ruling in December 1990. This brings to the fore the question of which institution shall take the third purpose for which the CAR was created.
There are three institutions in the region that coordinate regional government efforts with separate mandates but could be said to be at par with each other. The RDC coordinates socio-economic development per E.O. 325/E.O 30. The Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) coordinates efforts against criminality and insurgency per E.O. 320. The Regional Disaster Coordinating Council (RDCC) ensures disaster preparedness and coordinates resources for disaster operations per P.D. 1566. Functionally, the RDC is more encompassing in coverage than both the RPOC and the RDCC which are sectoral in extent. This functional difference puts the RDC in a position of authority to pursue the CAR’S purpose on autonomy.
During its Strategic Planning Workshop in March 2006 at Mount Data, Bauko, Mountain Province, the RDC-CAR decided to adopt the pursuit of regional autonomy as the overarching theme of Cordillera development. It took on the challenge to re-invent itself to pursue this development goal and consequently assumed the powers of the CAR bodies as defined by E.O. 220 (RDC Res, No. CAR-09, s. 2006).
In the same strategic planning workshop, the RDC conceded to its logistical limits to undertake its special actions as a re-invented organization. It, therefore, embarked on a mission to influence the Cordillera legislators to move for the restoration of the usual budget of the CAR bodies to be administered by the RDC-CAR in the pursuit of CAR’S mandate per E.O. 220. The RDC gained momentum in its lobbying as the national government granted it a budget of P15 Million pesos for 2007 to pursue an initial agenda in preparing the region for autonomy.
To strengthen its re-inventing, the RDC-CAR aims to take the further steps of working out an amendment of E.O. 30 through a presidential issuance and the amendment of E.O. 220 through Congress to attain expanded corporate powers though short of full regional autonomy. In these efforts, the re-invented RDC-CAR endeavors to showcase the region’s ability to gain increasing fiscal autonomy through judicious exercise of corporate powers, among others, as a prelude to full autonomy.
II. Rationale for Embarking on the Regional Autonomy Agenda
Regional autonomy is the overarching theme of the CAR Development Agenda: 2006-2010 per aforementioned earlier RDC actions.
The RDC members recognize that the region’s development should be grounded on Cordillera autonomy that respects the unique and distinct yet varied cultures of its people. This recognition stems from the following persuasion:
An autonomous set-up could hasten CAR’s development pace. The RDC believes that the region could speed up its development pace and achieve more in an autonomous set-up. From a careful assessment by regional planners, the CAR’s regional development agenda for 2006-2010 features key focus areas that generate alternative economic activities. The RDC hopes that this strategic approach would eventually re-structure the regional economy and put in place a diversification and broadening of the region’s sources of growth, away from a heavy reliance on Baguio-based manufacturing and mainly from PEZA-based industries. Through the key focus development areas, the RDC is convinced that the region has the potential to become self-sufficient by capitalizing on particular identified abundant natural resources and tapping certain areas of competence. In informal discussions, many of the RDC members argue that under an autonomous set-up, significant strides could be made on the bid to have control over the regional patrimony which could further spur socio-economic development.
Fiscal autonomy could be modeled in CAR to effectively implement the regional development agenda. The RDC believes that the region needs to develop its fiscal capability and position and strive to gain a modicum of self-reliance and veer away from full dependence on national government funding to effectively implement regional development priorities. For instance, the RDC has always advocated alternative planning standards for CAR due to its mountainous terrain and dispersed settlement pattern that bear additional cost to projects. With standard planning guidelines still in place, the RDC is convinced that development priorities in CAR are likely to lose out in national prioritization. The foregoing challenge has encouraged the RDC to model fiscal autonomy by exploring possibilities such as reviewing the E.O 220 provision on CAR sharing from income taxes in the region that has been stopped by the Department of Finance. The RDC believes that this provision, once re-implemented, would allow it to partly demonstrate the region’s ability to achieve fiscal autonomy which it also considers to be one strong foundation and pre-requisite for full autonomy.
The region needs to establish a position of strength in future negotiations for autonomy. The RDC further believes that the CAR needs to firm up its position on regional autonomy before the subject could be rendered irrelevant by moves to change the Philippine Constitution that may include a shift to a federal form of government. There is a growing idea in the RDC that the autonomy issue should now be confronted to jumpstart an increasing regional consensus that should precede moves towards federalism, for instance.
In the event that federalism is inevitable, the CAR leaders expressed their strong inclination for CAR to be treated as a separate state in the best interest of its people, accordingly contrary to the possibility of CAR becoming an entity of a larger grouping such as an aggrupation of Northern Luzon regions as one federal state. Logically, if moves for a regional autonomous set-up in CAR could be speeded up, it may be a showcase for a federal state and therefore renders the merger of CAR with other regions moot and academic.
The establishment of an autonomous region in the Cordilleras is a Constitutional provision that must be pursued. Section 1, Art. X of the Philippine Constitution mandates the creation of an autonomous region in Mindanao and the Cordilleras. E.G. 220 created the CAR in 1987 with the purpose of preparing the region for autonomy. The first Organic Act was overwhelmingly rejected in 1990 with only the Province of Ifugao ratifying it and the second was similarly rejected in 1998 with only the Province of Apayao favorably voting for it. After the prudent approach of discernment on the autonomy issue, the RDC as the primary institution for regional development coordination, took the responsibility to advance the regional autonomy agenda. Inasmuch as autonomy for the Cordilleras is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution, it could only be in the best interest of the Filipino citizens in the Cordilleras for it to be fulfilled.