Bill seeks P75B for Cordillera autonomy
BAGUIO CITY—Can the government afford a new autonomous region?
That’s what Benguet Rep. Ronald Cosalan said he wanted to know when he urged the House committee on local government last week to reconsider its support for the autonomy measure sponsored by Cordillera lawmakers.
The committee, chaired by Negros Oriental Rep. George Arnaiz, passed House Bill No. 5595 after a five-minute deliberation and without further discussions on Feb. 22.
But Cosalan said the committee must invite the Department of Finance and other appropriation agencies to study the feasibility of subsidizing the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) with a P50-billion grant for the first five years of its existence and another P25-billion grant for the next five years.
The bill was the product of a three-year consultation process by the National Economic and Development Authority and the Cordillera Regional Development Council, after local leaders concluded that the P75-billion government subsidy for the proposed CAR could jump-start the lackluster economy of upland provinces.
“Everything will be futile if the P10 billion a year [subsidy] plus the region’s tax shares we require is not even available. So it is important for the committee to inquire if autonomy really is a feasible proposal. We just cannot assume that it is,” said Cosalan.
President Benigno Aquino has maintained silence on Cordillera autonomy, after orchestrating reforms of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2011.
The 1987 Constitution mandates the creation of autonomous governments in the Cordillera and Muslim Mindanao, but Benguet has been historically opposed to the proposition, said Baguio Rep. Bernardo Vergara, one of the lawmakers who sponsored the measure.
Vergara sponsored the bill in 2011, alongside Representatives Teodoro Baguilat Jr. (Ifugao), Maximo Dalog (Mt. Province), Elias Bulut Jr. (Apayao) and Manuel Agyao (Kalinga), after the draft bill was crafted by a team led by Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III sponsored a counterpart autonomy bill.
HB 5595 proposed to use 20 percent of a P75-billion subsidy for regional infrastructure, livelihood projects and revenue-generating projects. It proposed the use of 10 percent of the funds for infrastructure and other economic projects of each of the six Cordillera provinces and Baguio City, 4 percent for Tabuk City in Kalinga and 6 percent for a Cordillera trust fund.
It is the third measure to create the autonomous Cordillera government, after voters junked the creation of CAR in plebiscites in 1990 and 1998.
Baguilat said: “Cosalan’s position hasn’t budged from day one—that there must be more grassroots consultations.”
“Unfortunately, the bill sailed through the local government committee so swiftly there was no motion to organize a consultation process,” he said. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon