Cordi solons to file new autonomy bill
Responding to the consensus reached in local consultations and aired in last Wednesday’s Cordillera Summit here, the region’s congressional representatives vowed to renew the constitutionally mandated push for self-rule by filing a new bill for the creation of an autonomous region in these uplands of Northern Luzon.
“We feel (autonomy) is the best option to hasten the development of our region,” Mt. Province Rep. MaximoDalog said as he joined his peers in assuring they will file a new organic act – the fourth measure so far– in keeping with the mandate of the 1987 Constitution for the establishment of autonomy in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera which have been lagging behind the country’s other regions in terms of development.
“It’s now or never,” Dalog said of the renewed push for autonomy aired by governors and mayors of the six-province, two-city region based on consultations conducted by the local government units and non-government organizations prior to the regional summit.
Baguio Rep. NicasioAliping Jr. clarified they will file a new bill to be crafted from feedbacks in the grassroots consultations and also based on the two previous organic acts and the third working draft which was filed as House Bill 5595 in the 15th Congress in late December, 2011.
“The Cordillera congressional representatives agreed to come up with a new bill that will take into account suggestions from all the consultations and the previous charters and earlier drafts,” Alping said.
The same assurance was made by solons Manuel Agyao of Kalinga, EleonarBulut-Bagtang of Apayao and Ronald Cosalan of Benguet. Cosalan, however, expressed reservations on its passage should President Benigno Aquino III and even congress not support it.
In his presentation, Ifugao Gov. Dennis Habawel stressed the need for the establishment of a regional lobby group to help ensure that the bill to be filed will reflect the region’s sentiment and so that “it is not watered down, tampered or altered by diverse groups”.
Habawel suggested that the final draft be presented to various groups in the provincial and local levels before the same is filed. H likewise rallied for the creation of a working group to coordinate with the Cordillera congressional representatives in the drafting of the organic act and s continuing advocacy campaign in the grassroots level to sustain the momentum for autonomy.
He viewed autonomy as a means to “get out of the clutches of the develop formula” which he noted is based on national standards which are not applicable to the unique conditions of the Cordillera.
Specifically, the disparity in specific nation al standards was earlier cited in the funding formula for road construction and maintenance given the Cordillera’s mountain terrain compared to the generally flat lowland condition in other parts of the country.
Agriculture officials here also earlier cited their difficulty of accessing funds for the upland Cordillera’s vegetable industry as it ran counter to the national flagship programs supportive of lowland production of, say, rice and corn.
While the region works for the ideal – that of all the six provinces and two cities voting for autonomy under the bill to the filed -, Habawel hinted at a probable rejection by some local government units.
His forecast, however, is that Kalinga, Ifugao, Apayaoa and Mountain Province would vote for self-rule.
Reporting on the consultations in his constituency, Mt. Province Gov. Leonard Mayaen said the common request “is for our Congressman to immediately file the bill”.
“If they will not agree, the governors will file it,” he said to which Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan added, “I-file yon a tapnohanngamaawanti momentum.”
Fongwan noted that the decrease in share of Cordillera provinces from national wealth taxes like those on renewable energy as a result of bills passed that watered them down should be restored through the organic act for autonomy.
“Babawitayoditosabatasnaito” (We will recoup these losses through the organic act),” Fongwan said.
For Abra, provincial board member Leonard Andanan reported the need for representation of major ethnic groups in the region to the administrative and legislative bodies of the autonomous region.
For Apayao, vice-governor Hector Pascua expressed the same sentiment as that of Mt. Province Rep. Dalog: “(Autonomy) is now or never.”
Kalinga led by Gov. JocelBaac, the former chair of the Regional Development Council., calaled for greater restrictions to large-scale mining and logging, higher local government units’ share from renewable energy taxes, and provisions for the settlement of conflicts and criminal cases amicably through indigenous conflict resolution.
Baguio mayor Mauricio Domogan, head of the regional committee that prepared the third working draft of the autonomy charter, summed up the presentations by identifying the five principles underlying Cordillera self-rule: establishment of a permanent regional identity, non0-diminution of benefits and powers of the region already existing under an administrative region, continuous national budgetary support to regional line agencies, additional national subsidy for the first 10 years, sustained national budgetary allocation even after the first 10 years of autonomy.
Lawyer Delmar Carino, speaking on behalf of the region’s media practitioners, also saw the need for a provision granting the region limited jurisdiction on the administration of justice through peaceful indigenous conflict resolution and a provision for regional council of elders.
Among the media concerns, he cited the difficulty of simplifying autonomy as a political concept from its socio-economic and cultural context, the autonomy bill getting ahead of discussions over the principles of autonomy itself, or debates on the form and details of autonomy to be adopted preceding its over-all substance.
He quoted a popular Ifugao expression to underline the Cordillerans’ need for their leaders to come out and provide wisdom to their quest for self-rule: “Mangamong hi Golman”.
Loosely translated “leave it to Galman”, the expression refers to United States Constabulary Capt. Jeff Galman who was highly respected for his judicious settlement of conflicts among his Ifugao constituents. – Ramon Dacawi.