The continuous failure of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to certify House Bill (HB) 543 and Senate Bill (SB) 1678, the two pending bills in both chambers of Congress seeking for the creation of an autonomous region in the Cordillera, as urgent administration measures, and the refusal of the concerned committees in both Houses to deliberate on the said bills for the formulation of the appropriate committee reports recommending the immediate enactment of the measures, now challenges the stakeholders in the region to scale the noise to pressure our national leaders to act on the clamor of the Cordillerans for self-governance. The Constitution grants Mindanao and the Cordillera different approaches in achieving the demand of the people in the two regions for regional autonomy.
On July 18, 2017, President Duterte, for the first time in the history of the country, met with Cordillera leaders and stakeholders in the Palace and discussed the issue of federalism as among the priorities of the government. He insinuated to them he will certify the region’s autonomy bill as urgent side by side with then Bangsamoro Basic Law which he signed just recently as the Bangsamoro Basic Law. His positive attitue gave encouragement for those who met with him to strategise for the enactment of the desired autonomy law. A series of national, regional and local gatherings have been undertaken to drum beat the region’s renewed quest for autonomy and send the message to our lawmakers to take urgent action for the region to achieve autonomy before the planned shift to federalism. The shift to a federal form of government will take a little more time than what is being projected because of the need to undergo the amendment to the 1987 Constitution, thus, it should not be an excuse for Cordillerans to also delay the enactment of the autonomy bills because we might be overtaken by events in the future and lose our chances.
What is at stake now is for us to claim that permanents regional identity as enshrined in the fundamental law of the land. We are clamoring for autonomy as that has been granted to us as a legal remedy for us to govern ourselves with lesser restraint from the central government. We must continue to press our national leaders that autonomy is what we want, no more, no less.
One of the good developments that happened over the past few weeks is the common commitment of both the unified Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) and the Cordillera Forum on Peace and Development (CFPD) to set aside their differences and come out with initiatives to show support to the region’s renewed quest for autonomy. It is important for the two groups that trace their roots to the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA-CPLA) to start mending their differences to convince that what they are fighting for is the greater interest of the marginalized people in the region.
With barely two months before our politicians file their certificates of candidacy for their desired positions at the national and local levels, we believe Cordilleras have to make a final effort to convince our national leaders to act on the pending autonomy bills for us to achieve autonomy together with our fellow brothers and sisters in Mindanao covered by the Bangsamoro Organic Law. All our individual and collective efforts to lobby for the approval of the autonomy bills should be in concert to send a clear message to our legislators that self-governance is what we need to advance the state of development in the different parts of the region.
We salute our friends from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), especially Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, for championing our clamor for autonomy but he needs other voices from our national officials to make the President feel that he has an unfulfilled commitment to the Cordillerans: the enactment of the autonomy law that he promised to certify. Let us not doubt the sincerity of the administration officials in fulfilling their commitment. Let us continue to do our part in reminding them that there exists the Cordillera that is similarly situated with the Bangsamoro awaiting similar treatment from the government.
There is still hope for autonomy and we just have to re-strategise as we take each step towards this journey to self-governance.