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Commentary

What about the Cordillera?

12:05 AM May 25, 2015

THE NATIONAL leadership is in a frenzy trying to craft a law that would create a Muslim enclave that is of larger dimension in terms of power, rights and privileges, and territory than those given to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the original tactical initiative by the government to quiet the restiveness of a minority people and satisfy their yearnings to manage their destiny.

I have no quarrel with the effort to create an entity that would function better and more assuredly bring peace to Mindanao than the ARMM, which, going by the record, has not achieved the goal for which it was formed. My only take is: Why the great ado about implementing the mandate of the Constitution to create an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao and none for the revival of an autonomous region of the Cordillera which is also a mandate of the Constitution? Let us revisit history briefly:

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The 1987 Constitution, under Article X, Section 15, clearly mandates the creation of Muslim Mindanao in the South, and the Cordilleras in the North as separate Autonomous Regions. Pursuant to that Constitutional Mandate, the democratically restored 8th Congress under President Corazon Aquino, passed the needed enabling acts, now known as Republic Act No. 6734 for Muslim Mindanao, and Republic Act No. 6766 for the Cordilleras.

In a subsequent plebiscite to seek approval by the people in the concerned areas of the autonomy enabling laws, only four out of 16 provinces in Muslim Mindanao—Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi—voted yes, and only one—my province of Ifugao—of the six Cordillera provinces (the other five are Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Kalinga and Mountain Province) voted yes.

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President Cory Aquino’s Cabinet was convened immediately after the two plebiscites. It was decided that the Autonomy Law would be implemented where more than two provinces voted for it affirmatively.

Thus was born the ARMM. And the opportunity for the people of the Cordillera to chart their own destiny through the constitutionally mandated autonomy was blanketed by the cobwebs of domestic economic interest, just a polite way of saying that the dreamed-of Cordillera Autonomous Region was left to sleep the sleep of the dead.

I have often been asked why the people of the Cordillera failed and continue to fail to get the kind of attention the natives of Mindanao get from the national government. Perhaps, I would speculate, because of our lack of one voice and one dominant orientation, unlike our brethren in Mindanao. The ethnic aborigines of Mindanao are dominantly Muslims and lumad, while the people of the Cordillera come from different tribal groups—the Ifugao, builders of the world-famous rice terraces; the Igorot or Bontoc of Mountain Province; the Kankanaey of Benguet; the Isneg of Abra and Kalinga-Apayao, and others. Unfortunately, their thinking, goals and dreams often operate at cross-purposes.

But perhaps the strongest single factor why the people of the Cordillera are seldom, if ever, seen on the national-government radar is the hibernation of the region’s militancy. The adage that only the squeaking wheel gets oiled is never truer than in this region’s case. For more than two decades the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army under renegade priest Conrado Balweg waged a protracted war against the government. Sure enough, it got the attention of the government, and the Cordillera was named in Cory’s Constitution as one of only two regions to be granted autonomy. The squeaking wheel got oiled.

Then the region fell silent and went to sleep following the violent deaths of Balweg and Macli-ing Dulag. Macli-ing’s voice reverberated all over the Cordillera when he strongly opposed the World-Bank-funded Chico Dam project that would traverse and inundate many sacred burial grounds of our mountain people.

Muslim Mindanao continues to get attention and continues to get oiled because it never stops squeaking. The Cordillera post-Balweg has stopped squeaking. Unlike Muslim Mindanao, the Cordillera is a landlocked region carved out of the old Mountain Province. It does not have the geography strategic to sustained armed struggle, unlike our Muslim brethren in Mindanao who have access to the sea through which they can obtain technical assistance and logistics from foreign supporters.

I lament the fact that our Cordillera is deprived of autonomy, a right specifically granted it by the Constitution but denied it by the Cabinet’s strange parsing of the autonomy enabling laws. I strongly urge the people of the Cordillera to wake up and agitate for the holding of talks with the government on ways to put the Cordillera autonomy mandate back on track.

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Autonomy will bring to the Cordillera immense benefits in ways not adequately explained to the people, which was why only one province, Ifugao, voted yes to autonomy in the plebiscite. Think of the wealth the Cordillera will generate from the use of its extensively rich mineral, timber and energy resources, wealth that its people will control and manage and have a larger share of under an autonomous setup, wealth that it can funnel to schools, hospitals and multifarious social services, and uplift its people’s lives.

Talks to revivify autonomy for the Cordillera should be a welcome issue to the government. It would lead to the unloading of a big chunk of responsibility and work from its shoulders. There’s absolutely no danger of a proposed Cordillera Autonomous Entity seceding from Inang Filipinas after some time, as feared by many about the nascent Bangsamoro.

Gualberto B. Lumauig ([email protected]) is past president of the UST Philosophy and Letters Foundation and former governor/congressman of Ifugao.

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