Bangsamoro as prism in Autonomy quest

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

THE victory of the Bangsamoro law in Congress will be a prism in the success of autonomy in the Cordillera, Benguet Representative Ronald Cosalan said.

Issues like power sharing, exploitation of natural resources among others which are like the Bangsamoro, are Cordillera prime concerns, which are ticklish issues before Congress.

The National Government believes it wields exclusive power over natural resources use and exploitation, he said.


Cosalan who together with other Cordillera congressmen attended the one-day regional autonomy summit Wednesday, said even in the Congress grind, such important issues being forwarded in the Cordillera autonomy quest, might just be watered down in the legislative grind which in the end might cause the rejection of the third attempt.

Such issues, Cosalan added, must be studied carefully in the third attempt.
This is aside from the seeming cold shoulder of Malacanang over the third bid for Cordillera autonomy. "The President wants to see us united on this," said Cosalan.

The Benguet solon admitted that no pre-summit consultation was conducted in Benguet, his province, unlike the other 5 provinces of the highland region.

"Our consensus with Gov. Nestor Fongwan was that the bill to be filed will be returned back to the people for consultation, a reverse from that of the other provinces. Such poses a problem though on time element on the legislative grind," Cosalan added.

Baguio City mayor Mauricio Domogan said the bill must be done by the end of this year and filed in 2015 and must be passed in Congress by that time, so the plebiscite will be included in the 2016 polls.

"If not, it will be in 2019 again," Domogan said.

The most practical thing to do is make Cordillera a regular region, Cosalan instead said and not bidding time to institute such a gargantuan task amidst these woes.

Not Working Hard Enough?

Malacanang has also advised Cordillera leaders and the regional development council to work harder to get President Benigno Aquino III’s support for a third bid for autonomy in the Cordillera according to Sec. Teresita Deles, chief of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in a meeting with an RDC contingent led by RDC Vice-Chairperson Milagros Rimando of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) in Manila after the Holy Week.

"The President has to be fully convinced it is what the majority of the Cordillerans want, Sec. Deles told us," Dir. Rimando said.

Further quoting Pres. Aquino III's alter-ego in the peace process, Rimando said Deles cited, "being a political exercise, the pursuit of regional autonomy should have widespread support of the region’s officials and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)."

Malacanang also wants the RDC to go sectoral in its information and education campaign activities, specifically citing the church groups as an influential force in the effort.

Rimando said Sec. Deles told them the President was also at first not totally convinced with the Bangsamoro Peace Agreement, and even quoted several times as saying the Armm is a failed experiment.

"After having been totally convinced of its merits, however, the President ended up supporting the agreement Sec. Deles told us," Rimando said.

The Bangsamoro Framework Agreement was finally signed in October 2012.

Wrong Foot Forward?

But the push for regional autonomy in the Cordillera is stepping on the wrong foot, said the left-leaning Cordillera People's Alliance.

Dwelling too much on money matters, instead of how the essence of self-rule is relished by the people, is dampening autonomy to take off, young Benguet Igorot Abigail Bengwayan-Anongos, secretary general of the CPA said.

CPA first drew government’s attention to regional self-governance in 1986 through a strong lobby to the government after the Marcos dictatorship.

"Autonomy is not only about having the liberty with how to run the region. It should answer specific issues," Anongos continued.

The CPA commemorated the death of Kalinga tribe leader Macli-ing Dulag April 24 as "Cordillera Day" in various provinces throughout the highland region. Autonomy was one of the focus of the gathering, "but the meat of autonomy like the right to self-determination, rights on ancestral land and resources and those that trample upon it will be more important than creating an autonomous government structure alone," she explained.

"It is not only about budget. That will follow, once we become autonomous," Anongos said, reiterating their position "to become truly independent, the national government should, among other things, pullout armed troops to allow development in the countryside and for the community to, on their own, develop natural resources not foreign investors."

Anongos said nothing in the third draft of the Organic Act or House Bill 5595 show genuine self-rule.

The CPA said HB 5595 is merely to comply with the Constitutional mandate to create a Cordillera autonomous region. “It is mainly on form– setting up regional structures, positioning in such structures, budget and allocations, regional governance and administration. It is lacking in principle and substance.”

HB 5595 allows the creation of an administrative organization, creation of sources of revenue, ancestral domain and natural resources, personal, family and property relations, urban and rural development, tourism, educational policies, preservation of cultural heritage, patents and trademarks for the general welfare. (Ace Alegre)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on May 02, 2014.

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