How ‘autonomy’ helped Cordillera respond to health crisis | Inquirer News
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How ‘autonomy’ helped Cordillera respond to health crisis

/ 04:00 AM July 17, 2020

BAGUIO CITY—Gongs rang out from the six provinces and two cities of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) during the virtual celebration of its 33rd foundation day on Wednesday.

Heeding physical distancing regulations, a handful of line agency officials who wore face masks gathered for the ceremony at the University of the Philippines Baguio, where governors and lawmakers reiterated their support for a third attempt to create the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera.

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House Bill No. 5867 is being supported by all Cordillera lawmakers and community leaders from the region’s provinces, towns and cities, said Agriculture Secretary William Dar, who spoke during the program.

COMMUNITY BOND Cordillera festivals, like the 2012 celebration of Am-among in Bontoc, Mountain Province, stress the strong bond between clans and communities. Local leaders are hoping that the region’s indigenous groups will unite to support the latest bid to create an autonomous government for the Cordillera. —RICHARD BALONGLONG

Unfulfilled promise

Cordillera autonomy is mandated under the 1987 Constitution. It is an unfulfilled promise of the peace agreement between then President Corazon Aquino and rebel priest Conrado Balweg.

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Aquino issued Executive Order No. 220 to forge the CAR by pulling back the provinces of Abra, Benguet and Mountain Province from the Ilocos region, and the provinces of Kalinga, Ifugao and Apayao from Cagayan Valley. These provinces made up the original Mountain Provinces during the American colonial era.

CAR was tasked with preparing these provinces for autonomy. Two laws creating the autonomous region, however, were rejected in two plebiscites in 1990 and 1998.

Dar said a “sincere expression of unity” would be necessary for the national government to back a proposed third organic law.

But the Cordillera’s effective response to the new coronavirus disease pandemic using community traditions already showed how communities can govern themselves under an autonomous region, Ifugao Gov. Jerry Dalipog said in a video message.

“We have become living proof [that we deserve] autonomy … We have become role models in this health crisis. We are [one of the] best performing regions nationwide [in handling] COVID-19,” he said.

“One of our remarkable deeds is our [version of the] ‘bayanihan’ culture regarding health, as we mutually help each other, and when we reach out beyond our borders by donating vegetables to the needy,” he added.

New era

According to Dalipog, asserting Cordillera culture has become more prominent, now that the country embraces “a new era and a different world due to the pandemic [where] unity and resilience and independence are very much alive.”

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“We are fighting for justice … for our identity and representation … the protection of our ancestral domain, and culture and practices,” said Kalinga Gov. Ferdinand Tubban.

Dar, who serves as Cabinet officer for regional development and security of Cordillera, said the regional development council had launched a massive information campaign on autonomy.

He cited a recent survey showing increased awareness of autonomy among Cordillerans from 35 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2019. —VINCENT CABREZA

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