BAGUIO CITY – The University of Baguio (UB) Student Council initiated an Election and Autonomy Talk for voting-age students of UB last April 13. Autonomy advocate Joel Cervantes of La Trinidad LGU and Autonomy IEC Speakers’ Bureau discussed the history of the autonomy pursuit and its benefits. The inclusion of autonomy in the event was made by UB Law Student Brenden Quintos.

Cervantes also pointed out the long history of misconceptions and discrimination against the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera that led to justifications of their exclusion in decision-making. He cited 2 books, the fourth edition of “I Believe in God and Evolution” by William Keen and “Mother America, a Living Story of Democracy” by Carlos Romulo, both of which were principal culprits in spreading misinformation against Igorots. Keen published a photo depicting a Bontoc Man with a tail which was later found out to be doctored. Moreover, Romulo, in his book, wrote that “the Igorot is not Filipino and we are not related”. He added that “and it hurts our feelings to see him [the Igorot] pictured in American newspapers under such captions as, ‘Typical Filipino Tribesman’ ”.

Such discrimination can still be seen in policies and projects that disregard indigenous knowledge, systems, and practices. Some policies and programs which are intended to benefit Cordillerans may end up not being appropriate or applicable. The renewed pursuit of regional autonomy was started in recognition of the need for Cordillerans to determine their development especially because the region faces unique geographical, historical, and cultural challenges relative to the rest of the Philippines. Although the Philippine government has taken steps to alleviate some of these challenges, there is still a need to provide more responsive policies that address the region’s unique characteristics.

The Regional Development Council (RDC) through NEDA-CAR and the Autonomy IEC Speakers’ Bureau continue to raise awareness on Cordillera autonomy. Advocates highlight that autonomy will provide enhanced Cordillera identity, responsive policies for the region, and progress for all Cordillerans. Cervantes emphasized the enhancement of Cordillera identity to the students through a discussion of the Cordillerans’ history of self-determination. He said that such history has not been properly taught in classes in the region and thus, a sense of Cordilleran identity has not been properly formed.

The RDC aims to fast track development in the Cordillera through regional autonomy. Since 2007, the RDC has pursued autonomy through legislation and information dissemination. Partnerships with public and private organizations are crucial in ensuring the necessity that autonomy is understood by Cordillerans.