The closure of the 15th Congress in the early part of 2013 for some time pigeonholed Cordilleras long-overdue mandate to become autonomous.The draft autonomy bill, filed in December 6, 2011 as House Bill 5595 or “An Organic Act for the Creation of an Autonomous Cordillera” took time before it was refiled in the 16th Congress.
Said bill was amended before it was refiled as House Bill 4649 or “An Act Establishing the Cordillera Autonomous Region” on June 11, 2014, and was approved by the Congressional Committee on Local Government on February 1, 2016
Since 2012, the RDC-CAR continues to support and undertake efforts in consulting local and national stakeholders while soliciting legal inputs to strengthen the provisions of the draft bill.
The view from the grassroots
Instrumental on the passage of HB 4649 at the house committee level was the success of the July 2015 region wide Public Hearings–led by the Ad Hoc Committee on Local Government, created for this purpose.
The report by the ad hoc committee cites ‘no objection’ and ‘overwhelming support for the passage of the proposed measure’. Amidst the support, proposed amendments pertinent to the draft organic act were still raised by the locals of the provinces.
Section 161, of Article XVI on the Transitory provisions was one of the most contested. This section cites ‘provinces that will not vote favorably on the organic act will revert to its mother region prior to the establishment of CAR’. Stakeholders who expressed censure on this provision believed that this will be a source of fragmentation of the region once a plebiscite to ratify the autonomy bill is undertaken.
The RDC noted the inputs in the public hearings as possible consideration to amend the autonomy bill.
A bird’s eye view: Inputs from National Stakeholders
Despite the hope of staunch Cordillera autonomy advocates that the Aquino Administration will address the Cordillera clamor for regional autonomy, support from the national government was hardly ever attained. The Bangsamoro Basic Law,on the other hand despite not certified as an urgent bill, obtained the backing of some of the country’s legal luminaries.
The RDC-CAR on March 31, 2016 convened a Round Table Discussion on Cordillera Regional Autonomy at UP Campus, Diliman, Quezon City to consult and obtain the position of National Government Agencies especially on their experience dealing with the layers of bureaucracy in Muslim Mindanao.
There was no actual devolution of powers that happened in ARMM, and the only aspect devolved was the personnel, said Atty. Benedicto Bacani from the Institute for Autonomy and Governance. Bacani offered caveats from the ARMM experience that the Cordillera should watch out for and should be resolved in the bill. An example of this is the failed adoption and implementation of its Regional Local Government Code.
Despite obtaining a 100% support from all participants from the NGAs present – DBM, DENR, KWF, NCCA, OP, DTI, NHA, DepEd, CHED, among others –experts advised that the current Cordillera autonomy bill will most likely not pass Congress if refiled as is.
Critical provisions pointed out were Article XVI on the Transitory provisions and the Article III on the Regional Autonomous Government and its relationship with the Regional Line Agencies. Detailed proposed amendments contained in position papers presented in the discussion and forwarded to the RDC-CAR were extracted and scrutinized.
A conference on the ‘State of Autonomy and Decentralization in the Philippines’ was subsequently sponsored by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. This international forum prompted the RDC-CAR to further strengthen the advocacy for regional autonomy with variegated program/projects along IEC, capability enhancement, and alliance building.
The IPRA Law and the autonomy bill
During the RTD on Cordi autonomy, former Commissioner of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Philippine Constitution,Prof. Ponciano Bennagen, said that if the Cordillera wants to be autonomous, the reason should not only be for development.
Hence, the RDC-CAR on April 29, 2016 convened 12lawyers / legal counsels and advisers both from government and non-government organizations – NCIP, Tebtebba, RTC, DOJ, PAO, Dinteg, and Autonomy Speakers’ Bureau – for a workshop to reexamine the interfacing of the provisions of the draft autonomy bill with Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.
Said activity reevaluated whether HB 4649 integrates the framework on indigenous peoples as provided by the IPRA Law–empowering the indigenous peoples and indigenous cultural communities in the region.
One deeply analyzed provision was Section 3 of Article I of HB 4649, which provides the definition of who is a Cordilleran. Even during the region wide public hearings, this provision was a constant concern with the Cordillera being 90 percent indigenous peoples.Likewise, stakeholders continue to seek clarifications on sections of the bill that involve mention on the rights of IPs under a regional autonomous government.
The workshop outputs will be considered as inputs in the review of the autonomy bill.
The RDC-CAR, through NEDA-CAR as its secretariat, continues to consolidate position papers and inputs from both local and national level stakeholders to be presented in a technical working session to further enhance the provisions of the draft autonomy bill.
by Mark Allen Ponciano, NEDA-SPCAR