By Robert L. Domoguen
Sun.Star Baguio Daily, Tuesday, March 3, 2009

As a believer in the quest for autonomy, I like Benguet Province for what it was and still is. If there is a vote on autonomy now, I know that majority of the IBenguets will reject it. Many would not even want to talk about it now.

This is not to say that they don’t understand or like the idea. I really can not tell but many of them fought for autonomy in its early days. I think I know what is behind the current attitude of Ibenguets to the continuing quest for regional autonomy and it is not appropriate for me to say it for them.

Let the i-Benguets themselves voice their sentiments on the issue in their own time. Some of them are actually contributing their voice in clarifying and pursuing autonomy right now in measured and calculating terms.

I AM a believer in autonomy for the Cordillera and I learned my latest concepts in this quest here in Benguet province.

But I am too far gone in this complex and rather delicate proposition, so let me back track a bit and situate my assertions for my appreciation.

Benguet province, you see, is the Cordillera in its microcosm. If you have seen this province, you have seen the whole of the region and more. For visitors and Cordillerans alike, that maybe is much too much to absorb but not really.

What is the Cordillera best known for? Cool weather, pine trees, rice terraces, temperate vegetables and ethnic tribes — you can all see them here in Benguet plus its mines with their gold, copper and other natural mineral resources.

Benguet province is home to the most peaceful Ibaloi and Kankana-ey tribes. But it also has become a second home to most of the Cordillera tribes from the north who migrated to Baguio City and nearby towns like La Trinidad, Tublay, Tuba, Itogon, Atok, Buguias, and Mankayan in search of greener pastures.

Initially, these other Cordillera tribes from Mountain Province, Ifugao, Kalinga, Abra and Apayao were lured to Benguet as laborers in the mines, vegetable farms and businesses in the urban areas such as Baguio and La Trinidad.

A lot of professionals from the other provinces are also now in residence in Benguet, mostly in Baguio City and La Trinidad. But you will also find some of them in the other municipalities of Benguet.

Most of the migrants from the Cordillera and also from Regions 1, 2, 3 and even as far as the Visayas found the province of Benguet with its cool weather, peace loving people, quite and beauty of the land far more accommodating to their quest for the good and better life, compared to their places of origin.

Much of the progress in Benguet is attributable to the inherent richness of the province in terms of its natural resources and the maturity of its people, not because of favoritism in its twisted meaning.

For instance, the development of Baguio as a city came about because its beauty, peaceful and quite environment is favorable to all kinds and classes of people. In this sense, every Cordilleran and Filipino should be glad if development investments should continue pouring in to improve such a very hospitable place.

Visitors and migrants are likewise encouraged to help and do their best to uphold Baguio City and Benguet province in their pristine beauty, and to respect and be grateful to the i-Benguets and Baguioites for their kind and good disposition in accepting each and everyone to their place.

No province, city, town, barangay and people in the Cordillera can match the i-Benguets’ in accepting outsiders to live, eat and even enjoy much of the goodness of life in their Ibaloi and Kankana-ey home grounds, schools, work places, mines, among others.

It certainly comes in bad taste for other Cordillerans to even deny Benguet and Baguio and their peoples, appreciation for their continued successes in enlisting support from the National Government to implement much needed development programs.

Truth is, much of Benguet still remains inaccessible and the province’s remote areas await development support and assistance. The aggressive stance of the provincial and municipal governments of Benguet in enlisting support from the National Government in having this highland province rise even higher as a thriving and progressive province which has, so far been hospitable to all in the first place is nothing but noteworthy and novel, something to cheer on instead.

To be honest, what could have happened, if we turn back the time say some seven decades ago if Baguio City, the mines, vegetable gardens and other business enterprises was setup in another province of the Cordillera outside of Benguet? Would the people in that province accept the i-Benguets and other Cordillerans as the IBenguets accepted us then and now?

As a believer in the quest for autonomy, I like Benguet Province for what it was and still is. If there is a vote on autonomy now, I know that majority of the IBenguets will reject it. Many would not even want to talk about it now.

This is not to say that they don’t understand or like the idea. I really can not tell but many of them fought for autonomy in its early days. I think I know what is behind the current attitude of Ibenguets to the continuing quest for regional autonomy and it is not appropriate for me to say it for them.

Let the i-Benguets themselves voice their sentiments on the issue in their own time. Some of them are actually contributing their voice in clarifying and pursuing autonomy right now in measured and calculating terms.

Their arguments help me arrive to this current that the good things in life, including relationships and autonomy are not to be won by words alone and upmanship. Great ideas become reality through blood, sweat and tears and are sustained by more of the same — patience and sacrificing action in an environment of peace and accommodation.

Benguet is the only province in the Cordillera? Common, your honors! Words can be cheap and autonomy is not just about roads and money coming to our backyards. It is about relationships, tolerance and accepting others even allowing them the opportunity to sit in our thrones with all good intents and purposes.

Benguet, along with all the five other highland provinces of Abra, Apayao, Kalinga, Ifugao and Mountain Province constitute the Cordillera Administrative Region, a province that in a sense has proven itself so far, as the only province of the Cordillera for the Cordillerans, even if it rejected its quest for regional autonomy in two previous plebiscites.

So welcome to Benguet, God bless the Cordillerans, ay…!e…IBenguets. Good day Cordillera ay…e…Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan. Sorry for my presumptuousness. Now, I don’t know how you will react to all of these ruminations. But let us just let it be and part now having them all in jest but keeping Benguet and all of the Cordilleras and its peoples in our hearts and in our heads including the remaining good hairs on it.

Our gratitude will always remain with those who view and pursue an autonomous Cordillera for all Cordillerans, ethnic or otherwise in a circuitous or direct manner. It is only in our sincerity that we can talk and move autonomy for the Cordilleras forward, I guess. Nah! Definitely!

‘Till next time in your favorite Sun.Star Baguio Daily.