The proposal for the establishment of an Autonomous region in the Cordilleras is probably taking a backseat for now due to the present issues we are confronting now. Does this mean that our bid for autonomy is less urgent or of less importance than the present issues? Perhaps we can ponder upon this for a moment. Is the issue on autonomy not that urgent that it usually gets obscured by other “more important” issues? Has the fervour on establishing a government system to protect our heritage, culture and identity waned? Maybe the very basis of the provision of our constitution for the establishment of an autonomous region no longer applies. Or have we become so integrated with the rest of the country that we no longer see the relevance of an autonomous region?
The Basis of our Bid for Autonomy
The inclusion by the drafters of our constitution of a provision for the establishment of autonomous regions is worthy of commendation. It means they have recognised the right of indigenous peoples to self determination. This stems from the theory that the state including its laws and policies are being run by people who do not share the same cultural practices, language, and beliefs as the indigenous peoples. The constitutional provision on autonomy is supposed to allow indigenous peoples to lay down their own laws and policies consistent with their own cultural practices, beliefs, and systems. But what are these cultural practices, beliefs, and systems? This is might be the flaw on our bid for autonomy. The drafters of the constitution might have had the notion that the different communities in the Cordillera have the same cultural practices, beliefs, and systems. We do not! The concept of “Igorot” might have contributed to this misleading notion. Cordillerans themselves and even non-Cordilleras have been using the term “Igorot” as a collective term for people from the Cordilleras. This might have caused the confusion even among the drafters of the constitution who might have thought that the “Igorots” have one cultural practices, language, beliefs, etc. They might not have known that the Cordilleras is composed of communities who have distinct cultures. I remember when I was in college, some of my classmates from Ifugao did not want to be called “Igorots”. I did not understand their reason then but I now totally agree with them: I am not an “Igorot”, I am an Ibaloi. That is my cultural identity! The Ibaloi has its own distinct language, cultural practices, beliefs, etc. The “Igorot” has none. This is similar to the term “American Indians”. It is a misnomer, it is misleading, and diminishes the identity of the people being referred to. Why not call them Sioux, Navajo, etc.? In the same manner, why refer to me as an “Igorot” and not “Ibaloi” instead which is who I am. As a graduate of anthropology and political science, I firmly believe that this has to be resolved first in order for our bid for autonomy to take flight or to make the proper determination if we even need to be an autonomous region in the first place.
I respectfully think that we really have to go back and check on the basis of our bid for autonomy. If indeed the provision in our constitution was based on a misleading notion, forcing the idea of an autonomous region for the Cordilleras might just be futile or end up adopting a system which might not work for our benefit. Proponents have laboured for many years now and presented several versions of the organic act but we remain an administrative region. Is not time for us to re-examine the fundamental issues?