MANKAYAN, BENGUET – “As long as it is in the Constitution, we will pursue autonomy”, said Autonomy advocate Joel Cervantes in his discussion on the region’s pursuit of regional self-determination with the senior high school students of Lepanto National High School and Mankayan National High School on September 30.

September 30 marked the end of the third quarter of the calendar year and the Cordillera autonomy advocacy has seen its gains. The quarter began with the celebration of Cordillera Month in which the newly-elected heads of the Cordillera provinces and the City of Baguio affirmed their commitment towards “Building One Greater Cordillera”.

Later, the Organic Law Drafting Committee composed of government and private experts in various sectors in the region finalized their inputs and recommendations to the draft Cordillera Organic Law. The final draft was a consolidation of inputs and comments on House Bill 5343 from the Congress-led public consultations, the Cordillera Indigenous Peoples’ Legislative Assembly, the Bangsamoro Organic Law, and various other sources. The RDC approved the proposed amendments on August 8 but emphasized that the Congressmen will have the final say on the draft bill.

“Autonomy is our obligation”, said Congressman Mangaoang of Kalinga during a meeting with RDC partners with each CAR Congressman last September 11. Mangaoang and the CAR Congressmen have been working together to review the inputs and to draft a bill ready for ratification and a plebiscite. Congressman Mark Go of Baguio City emphasized that the pursuit of autonomy is for all Cordillerans. The Cordillera legislators plan to file the bill before the end of October. Mangaoang shared that they initially wanted to file the bill on or before September 13 to commemorate the historic Sipat or peace accord between the Cordillera Peoples’ Liberation Army and the Philippine government. However, Congress focused its efforts in fast-tracking the approval of the General Appropriations Act.

Further, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte recognized the Cordilleran’s clamor for self-determination by once again declaring September 13 as a regional holiday by virtue of Proclamation no. 802 issued last August 29. “It is but fitting and proper that the people of the Cordillera Administrative Region be given full opportunity to celebrate and participate in the occasion with appropriate ceremonies”, the proclamation stated.

NEDA-CAR, as the technical secretariat to the RDC, continues to spearhead the autonomy advocacy in the region through Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) activities. It is also currently conducting a research on the Fiscal Viability of the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera.

Recent IEC activities among senior high schools, barangay officials, and civil society organizations have been conducted. NEDA-CAR and its partners have reached over 12,000 individuals with more stakeholders reached over social and print media. Mock plebiscites have been carried out during the IECs, demonstrating the effectiveness of the advocacy with 85% of the 5,904 participants in mock plebiscites voting “yes” to Cordillera autonomy.