What is autonomy? In the most simplified way that Ah Kong can explain, it means the right to self-direction, self-determination self-rule, self-government or home rule with respect to local or internal affairs.
An example of autonomy in its smallest context is a family. A family is governed by the private decision of elders, parents, some or all of its members and the decisions are not subject to scrutiny or interference from outside authorities unless there is compelling reason.
In the first referendum of January 30, 1990, (general vote by the Cordillera electorate on a single political question and referred to them by direct decision through voting), it was only Ifugao Province that voted for self-rule, or autonomy.
In the second referendum held March 7, 1998, only Apayao Province chose autonomy.
What seems to be the reasons why other Cordillerans in other provinces in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) did not vote for autonomy?
In a survey conducted October 2007, it was revealed, first, many did not understand autonomy, hence were undecided to vote for it; second, many were not aware the Philippine Constitution commands for the creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras; and third, many were not aware of the legislative power proposed under the autonomy.
As voiced in a nutshell by many Cordillerans who are laypersons, just like Ah, “Alangan met nga ibotos mi ti saan naisplika iti panaka-awat mi. Ay ket nagbalin kamin a nga tanga!”
Usto met piman a! Why vote for something you don’t understand as revealing uncovered by the October survey. Such situation reminds of the time when Ah was assigned in Zambales.
One of his colleagues wanted to take a leave and their division boss asked, “Bakit ka magli-leave?”
Ah’s colleague answered, “Magpapakasal po ako, Sir.”
Boss: “At sinong tangang babae na di tinuruan ng magulang ang gustong magpakasal sa inyo?”
Ah’s colleague: “Ang anak n’yo po, Sir!”
Now, what we, Cordillerans gain if our region, presently administrative in nature, becomes autonomous, or self-governing?
First, identity of the Cordillerans as a uniquely indigenous group of people will be historically and greatly reinforced and as a result, deeply appreciated and respected by others in the Philippines.
Remember, Cordillerans have long been associated with misconceptions. A glaring error long associated with us is that we have tails.
In this present age of Enlightenment, there are still ignorant non-Cordillerans who post on Facebook that Cordillerans have tails.
Only recently, just two days ago last week, a person who identified herself as Angela Delara posted on Facebook, saying among others, “Mga Igorot na taga bundok, mga may buntot. Mga walang kwenta kayong mga Igorot…”
Many who read Delara’s post were irate and reacted with vicious counter comments. Ah pities this person for her total ignorance about the highlander indigenous people and pities her more for revealing her ignorance publicly on Facebook.
If anyone among you, good readers happen to know this person going by the name of Angela Delara, it would be prudent to give her good counsel for her own good sake.
Result of the identity of Cordillerans historically and greatly appreciated hence will stamp a permanent regional identity for the provinces composing CAR and further generates study of interest by non-Cordillerans to the history of the highlanders who have stood their ground, maintained their time-honored culture and tradition and were least influenced by the Spaniards in their 300 years of rule during the Spanish colonization.
Being autonomous, Cordillerans can greatly refocus their internal efforts in the total conservation of the unique Cordilleran environment.
Indigenous knowledge on environmental conservation has long been recognized to contribute to sustainability of production systems, resource conserving cultures like the “muyong,” and “ala-a” systems of the Ifugaos; “lapat” among Isneg and Tingguians; “inum-an,” “gen-gen,” “dayog,” “balkah,”” kinnibah,” “tuping and “pamattey” of the Ikalahans, among others.
Indigenous environmental systems in Cordillera can be good models in promoting conservation sustainability, for the forest management approach of the local people treat forest as “life shed,” where human existence is connected with land, forest and water.
Presently, the region is subject to Presidential Decree 705 or the Forestry Code, which, among others, failed to take into consideration insights of indigenous peoples and communities who have, for generations, settled on, developed and cultivated lands with slopes above 18 per cent.
Problems brought about by PD 705 to the region include forest management, land development, agriculture, commercial areas, housing, among others.
A strengthened identity of the Cordillerans will redound to the continuous growth of our culture.
Second, being autonomous, Cordillerans can work out policies or courses of action that responds to the internal needs of the region.
Let Ah cite an example. A plan of action exceedingly suitable for lowland condition may not work if implemented in an upland site. But sad to express that such had happened in the past and continues to occur because the policy emanates or comes from higher government offices and there is less Cordillerans can do about such bureaucratic dilemma.
A good example of the above: Engineering a highland road, developing it and maintaining it is far more expensive compared to doing it in lowland setting and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is aware of such.
Being autonomous, the course of action for an action plan comes directly from the autonomous government which is in touch with the ground and knows the stark reality.
Within this periphery, relevant indigenous knowledge, systems and practices will thus be recognized and given importance for their application when policies for the region are developed by the autonomous government.
In the proposed autonomous government for the Cordillera region, the Regional Governor who will be elected will become a member of the President’s Cabinet, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and other agencies to be spelled out once Cordillerans vote for self-government.
Cordillerans need to be informed further, and more importantly, that if they do not get their acts together and go yes for autonomy, the region will continue to have an erratic and unsustainable growth. Why?
Let Ah cite you the bare facts. Let us start with the Local Government Unit (LGU) Internal Revenue Allotment. At present, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) is given one of the lowest share. Basis of computation is land area and population.
Given that the region has one of the smallest area and population, the region’s share will always remain that small if Cordillerans will not embrace autonomy.
As to funding CAR, national agencies give funds to each region in the country based on national planning and budgeting standards. As a result, CAR presently receives one of the lowest share in the national budget.
Presently, too, it is the national government that enact laws, policies and other issuances that it deems suitable for all regions, like the Local Government Code of 1991 which serves as the basis for IRA computation, Forestry Code, Roxas Law and Payment of environmental Services.
Also, the national government has exclusive control in development and management of the country’s natural resources like extractive development projects formulated and implemented by national agencies and private firms without free, prior informed consent with local communities.
In the case of hydropower, it is the Department of Energy (DOE) which approves applications while it is the National Water Resource Board which issues water rights and water permits.
In the unique case of Cordillera, it happens to be the headwater source in Northern Luzon, cascading much needed water to the lowlands.
Third, all benefits of nationally paid employees shall not be diminished or lessened by reason of the creation of a regional autonomy. Budgetary needs of regional agencies where they belong shall continue to be provided by national government.
And no government employee will be dismissed or removed by reason of reorganization of the region.
Fourth, main reason behind the constitutional provision on the creation of regional autonomy is the development of the regions of CAR and Muslim Mindanao, both long neglected, and the legal justification to allocate more funding to speed up their socio-economic infrastructure development, to catch up with other regions.
Hence, upon creation of an autonomous Cordillera region, the national government shall provide a subsidy of ten (10) billion pesos every year for the first five years and five (5) billion for the next five years.
Moreover, there will be provision for the mode of distribution of the subsidy to the regional government, provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays.
Fifth, After the period of subsidy, the national government shall continue to provide sufficient budgetary allocation to the region in order to ensure its financial stability and sustenance.
Autonomy does not mean seceding from the national government. No, in fact, autonomy tends to strengthen the national government. –Bony A. Bengwayan