SADANGA, Mountain Province – On February 25 to 28, through the initiative of the Sadanga Environmental and Cultural Care Association Inc. (SECCAI) in partnership with the National Economic and Development Authority Cordillera (NEDA-CAR), the Sadanga, Mountain Province barangays of Sacasacan, Belwang, and Bekigan were hosts to Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) drives to raise awareness on Cordillera autonomy. Several residents of Sadanga were enlightened by the development potential of an autonomous Cordillera.
As the overarching theme of the regional development plan, Cordillera autonomy brings the hope of progress to the numerous Ilis of the mountain range. Autonomy IEC speaker Gary Pekas cites the numerous areas for potentially sustained developmental growth in the municipality. From developing various agricultural crops to its tourism spots, Sadanga, has a lot to offer, Pekas said.
Life in the more rural areas such as barangays Bekigan and Belwang is noticeably rugged and hard. The hour-long trek from the municipal center challenges even the most seasoned traveler. There are no roads to these barangays, only cemented pathways. Even locals are visibly exhausted after a particularly steep ascent to the junction.
The prospect of a better life was alluring to the residents. Pekas noted that several sustainably grown crops like rice, sugarcane and coffee beans have a potential for profit. The crops can be processed into heirloom rice, muscovado and basi, and flavored coffee, respectively, through proper training and development. Pekas also cites that Sadanga has natural wonders that can compete for tourists with other towns in the Cordillera. The beautiful but hidden Fowa-as falls in between Bekigan and Belwang, its rice terraces and various hot springs in the area have great tourist potential, he noted.
The biggest hurdle to these prospects is the lack of roads. From transporting raw materials to providing access to tourists and traders, roads are the biggest concern according to the residents. With the current DPWH budgeting standard of 35 to 40 million pesos per kilometer of road, Sadanga cannot afford the road building projects. The 1 to 2-hour trek from the municipal center to Belwang entails 4 to 5 kilometers of vehicle-wide cement which is estimated at just under 200 million pesos. This is far larger than the barangay’s annual internal revenue allotment (IRA) of around 1.5 million. With regional autonomy, Pekas explained, potential development areas such as Sadanga can be prioritized for accessibility and product development. Instead of IRA-based development projects, sections 92 through 99 of the proposed Cordillera autonomy bill ensures development based on the needs and potential of its areas.
Residents certainly welcomed this approach to development. Sadanga is a 5th class municipality with a population of just over 9,000 as of 2010. Hosting a variety of crops and tourist destinations make Sadanga ripe for sustainable development. Like many other Ilis in the region, Sadanga possesses wealth that has yet to be tapped. Regional autonomy can provide a venue in which to sustainably nurture this and provide a better future to its people.
By Marlo T. Lubguban