Benguet’s Arnel Labisa (Third from left) and Apayao’s Jazreal Jamila Enciso (Fourth from left) are crowned Mr. and Ms. Cordillera Autonomy Youth Ambassadors (CAYA) 2023. Other winners are Eddiemar Pacis (Apayao) and Angelika Josiery Servinas (Baguio City), CAYAs for Capacity Building; RJ Sean Maverick Claustro and Almie Jane Paned (both from Abra), CAYAs for Alliance Building; and, Godwin Bumosao (Kalinga) and Kristine Dilao (Benguet), CAYAs for Information, Education, and Communication.

The Cordillera Regional Development Council (RDC-CAR) declared the 14 Cordillera Autonomy Youth Ambassadors (CAYA) 2023 during the main program of the Search for Mr. and Ms. CAYA held at the Municipality of Pudtol, Apayao on July 14, 2023. The new set of youth ambassadors represents the six provinces and the City of Baguio.

The youth ambassadors demonstrated their gift of speaking and grace under pressure deserving of recognition. They proudly displayed their creative, ethnic and casual attires, which were reflective of the region’s material and local culture. Their understanding of the cause of Cordillera autonomy was highlighted in their messages during the interview and in their autonomy pitch videos.

Ms. Jazreal Jamila Enciso of Apayao who was awarded as the Miss CAYA 2023 pinned her autonomy advocacy with the acronym, ABEL – Acquiring Benefits, Enhancing Lives, through the realization of Cordillera autonomy.

Mr. CAYA 2023 Arnel Labisa of Benguet presented the need of including non-native Cordillerans in autonomy discussions and partnering with non-Cordilleran lawmakers in advancing the bill in Congress.

Each of the ambassadors shared their specific advocacies touching on a broad range of strategies in advancing regional development and autonomy. These include promoting culture-based education, eco-cultural tourism, and the preservation of culture, arts and heritage.

Emphasized is the need to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights and youth leadership in the pursuit of the region’s self-determination and protection of natural resources. Increasing avenues of conversations in communities and among the youth is also needed. This aims to achieve a united stand considering the region’s multicultural population. The role of the elders in guiding the youth in pursuing these advocacies has been upheld as important.

The need for partnerships between the public and private sectors in addressing infrastructure, digital connectivity challenges, and determining appropriate educational curriculum and policies were also shared. Specifically, the need to increase support for agricultural technological innovations for farmers was surfaced.

These advocacies ultimately call for the youth to vote “yes” to autonomy and to create positive change as the region journeys toward an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous region for all. Even the role of sports development in enhancing the holistic well-being of the youth will facilitate and sustain their involvement in the regional autonomy campaign was underscored.

The Search, now on its second installment, aims to provide the platform for youth participation in the autonomy advocacy. This responds to the 2021 Pulse Survey research report identifying the youth being the least aware on the region’s quest for autonomy.

The RDC, through the NEDA-CAR as its Secretariat, will continue to engage the youth ambassadors through the Social Preparation of CAR into an Autonomous Region (SPCAR) Program.