ADVANCING THE CORDILLERA AGENDA FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND AUTONOMY:
WHITE PAPER UPDATE

I. Introduction/Rationale

The Regional Development Council-Cordillera Administrative Region (RDC-CAR) has enunciated its agenda for regional autonomy in a White Paper issued on April 2007 that broadly explained the attendant workprogram. Since then initial workprogram accomplishments generated feedback and information that substantiate the basic premise on the crucial need to build regional and local development capacities and prepare Cordillera voters to exercise informed decision-making on the issue of whether or not to embrace regional autonomy.

Results of the Cordillera Voters Regional Autonomy Readiness Pulse Survey show that only about 19% of the respondents would vote favorably on a 3rd Organic Act while 15% appear to be decidedly against it.  About two-thirds (66%) have yet to decide “for or against” depending on the resolution of issues relating to the contents of the Organic Act and the effectiveness of the region and its component local government units to deliver basic/public services. The survey has further indicated a strong perception that the Cordillera Region, as it is now, is not yet ready to assume responsibilities of an autonomous region with about 31% of the respondents answering so and the remaining 40% having no opinion on the matter. When asked as to the next step for the region to take on regional autonomy, 44% want to work out a flexible program to gradually develop CAR’s capability to become autonomous on a phase by phase program.

Moreover, some mixed sentiments for and against regional autonomy were generated by the RDC’s announced renewed pursuit of the agenda. Because of these mixed sentiments and the initial findings of the Pulse Survey, the RDC finds it necessary to update the White Paper. This update attempts to clarify how the RDC is pursuing the agenda and subsequently enjoin all Cordillera stakeholders to be actively involved in such pursuit.

II. Key Elements of the RDC Agenda on Regional Development and Autonomy

  1. Work out a flexible program to gradually develop CAR’s capability to become autonomous on a phase by phase program.

The option to gradually develop CAR’s capability to become autonomous on a phase by phase program evolved from the preference of the Pulse Survey respondents when asked what should be done NOW in relation to regional autonomy..Developing the region’s capability shall be approached through: ensuring that requisites for regional development as presented in the CAR-Regional Development Plan are realized; and enhancing the capability of the regional bureaucracy and the local government units in managing development.

1.1 Focus on Regional Development

The RDC agenda focuses on regional development through the implementation of catalytic programs/projects (outside of regular agency projects) advancing the key focus areas outlined in the CAR-RDP. The KFAs are categorized as follows:

  • Towards instituting the pillars of CAR development, namely: indigenous culture and knowledge; social development and poverty alleviation; good governance; and physical integration;
  • Towards capitalizing on CAR’s comparative advantage, namely: CAR as watershed cradle and balanced ecosystem model, as major energy provider; and as prime eco-tourist destination; and

  • Towards Socio-economic Empowerment, namely: CAR as prime educational center north of Manila, as green and ornamental grocer, and as center for knowledge-based industries and producer of agro-industrial products.

In parallel, development programs/projects/activities subjected to the annual budgeting process should contribute to the achievement of the goals/objectives of the KFAs. This recommendation appeals to regional line agencies to align their priorities to the KFA goals/objectives.

1.2 Enhancing development management competencies of the regional administrative machinery and local government units

As the RDC intensifies the implementation of the CAR Regional Development Plan, there is equal need to enhance the capability of the regional administrative machinery in managing development. This could be aligned to the functional areas to be devolved by the national government to an autonomous regional government (Art. X, Section 20, 1987 Philippine Constitution). The areas of responsibility are:

  • administrative organization;

  • creation of sources of revenue;

  • ancestral domain and natural resources;

  • personal, family and property relations;

  • regional urban and rural planning development;

  • economic, social and tourism development;

  • educational policies;

  • preservation and development of the cultural heritage; and

  • other matters for the promotion of the general welfare.

Taking off from the belief that fiscal autonomy, that is the ability to raise and manage own revenues, is an enduring basis for a viable autonomous region, the RDC shall initially look into developing the region’s capacity for revenue generation. The RDC shall commence on exploring the possibilities stated in Executive Order 220 that created the Cordillera Administrative Region. Other means of empowering the region to raise its own revenues outside of EO 200 shall also be studied.

At the local level, the RDC shall initiate activities for local government units to harness their potentials for local development and autonomy as provided in the Local Government Code. This is an attempt to depart from the current situation where the LGUs are almost solely dependent on internal revenue allotment to finance local development initiatives.

  1. Massive information campaign and provincial consultations

The IEC activities of the RDC shall pick up from the high levels of unawareness on the uniqueness of the region to establish an autonomous regional government as constitutionally mandated and the inadequate understanding of the substance of regional autonomy.  Provincial consultations shall focus on generating ideas on critical next steps to facilitate regional development and other measures to respond to the regional autonomy issue.

The results of the pulse survey and basic researches that follow shall be critical inputs to this aspect where information exchange and iterative consultations shall utilize appropriate discussion platforms.

  1. Tracking of People’s Sentiments

The Pulse Survey that was completed forms the baseline of people’s perception on the region’s capability to be autonomous. As the RDC operationalizes its agenda on regional development and autonomy, it is prudent to track changes in the sentiments and viewpoints of the people over time .

III. Strategic Implication

With the foregoing framework, the RDC needs to speed up the work operationalizing its agenda. Many of the activities of the 2007 workplan are carried over in 2008, hence about 80% of the 2007 budget remains to be spent in the current year. Yet, there is an expected budget allocation of PhP18 Million for 2008. Furthermore, the RDC shall work out a PhP33 Million budget to pursue the agenda with regional development remaining as its focus.

Given the gargantuan task, the RDC needs to explore all possibilities of mobilizing stakeholders in order to effectively achieve its objectives on regional development and autonomy.