Towards Regional Autonomy: Lessons and Recommendations for the Establishment of the Cordillera Autonomous Region
- IAG Philippines
The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) Philippines and the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) organized a successful roundtable discussion on House Bill 3267, An Act Establishing the Cordillera Autonomous Region, at the Citylight Hotel, Baguio City on 3 February 2023. The event aimed to provide a platform for stakeholders to share their views and opinions on the current state of the legislation and its potential impact on the region.
The attendees included Atty. Benedicto Bacani, the Executive Director of IAG; Jerome Jogno, the Program Manager of KAS Philippines; Stephanie Christiansen, the Assistant Regional Director of NEDA-CAR; Ret. Gen. Bismarck Soliba, a consultant of the OPAPRU; Congressmen Mark Go of Baguio City and Jesse Mangaoang of Kalinga; and representatives of different Civil Society Organizations and members of IP Champions, as well as SPCAR IEC Speakers.
During the discussion, Atty. Bacani stressed the importance of ensuring that the autonomy legislation aligns with the interests of the Cordillera people and promotes regional development. Congressman Go shared his insights on the need for a more comprehensive approach to regional autonomy, which considers the diverse needs and perspectives of the various communities in the region.
The challenges and threats raised during the roundtable discussion on the advocacy for autonomy and the legislation of the House Bill are as follows:
- Inadequate time for the approval of the previous House Bill in the Senate
- Lack of information dissemination, particularly in the grassroots level
- Insufficient IEC activities in the grassroots level
- Lack of training and information for speakers and advocates on autonomy
- Limited time for the campaign and delayed release of budget for the campaign
- Region with a leadership-centric approach
- Need to reach out to new officials and educate them on autonomy to gain their support.
The following are the lessons and recommendations learned during the roundtable discussion for achieving Cordillera Autonomy:
- Cordillera leaders, autonomy advocates, and concerned sectors in the region should initiate a signature campaign at the grassroots level to support their quest for autonomy. This will also send a strong message to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to certify the proposed autonomy bill as urgent.
- The people must be united and continue to support each other in generating excitement, awareness, appreciation, and commitment towards the quest for self-governance.
- Empowerment of the youth is necessary to sustain the advocacy for autonomy.
- Local Government Units should be involved in the advocacy for Autonomy.
- It is important to sustain the interest of the Congressmen to work together to pass the Autonomy Bill.
- Autonomy must be the priority of the people of Cordillera, and multiculturalism should be promoted.
- Trainers’ training should be conducted to provide advocates with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively promote autonomy.
- The Autonomy Bill should be brought up during Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) campaigns, so that people can be aware of its contents and raise comments or suggestions for its improvement.
The roundtable discussion concluded with a call for continued dialogue and engagement between all stakeholders to ensure that the legislation is inclusive and beneficial for all. The event is part of KAS and IAG's efforts to promote regional autonomy and good governance in the Philippines. Overall, the roundtable discussion brought together key stakeholders to exchange ideas and highlights the need for collaborative efforts towards the future Cordillera Autonomous Region.
- Benedicto R. Bacani – Executive Director, IAG
- Mary Jacqueline Fernandez – Deputy Executive Director, IAG
- Milagros Rimando – Philippine Institute for Environmental Planners – North Luzon
- Mark Go – Baguio City Representative, House of Representatives
- Jesse Allen Mangaoang – Kalinga Representative, House of Representatives
- Jerome Jogno – Program Manager, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Philippines
- Stephanie Christiansen – Assistant Regional Director, NEDA-CAR
- Gen. Bismarck Soliba – Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU)
- Robert Domoguen – Department of Agriculture – CAR
- Edna Tabanda – Pilipina Inc. – Baguio-Benguet Chapter
- Wilbert Wanas – Youth Formation – DepEd/ IP Champion
- Gary Pekas – Cordillera Autonomy Advocate, Mountain Province
- Paulina Sawadan – Cordillera Autonomy Speakers’ Bureau
- Peter Dumaguing – Speakers’ Bureau
- Ferdinand Gonzales – Peoples Organization for Social Transformation/ IP Champion
- Jedida Aquino – Regional Development Council-CAR
- Helen R. Tibaldo – Regional Director, PIA-CAR
- Mann Sortejao – PIA-CAR
- Aries Dos Campos – NEDA-CAR
- Juanita Chulsi – CBA-CPLA
- Kathleen Magaliao – SPCAR
- Alvin Fernandez – SPCAR
- Geanjesse Posadas – SPCAR
- Tomas Kiwang – Administrator, Provincial LGU Mt. Province
- Athaliah Tulay
- Florence Manegdeg – Cordnet/Satanet/IP Champion
- Imelda P. Sedano – Office of Congressman Mark Go
- Charis Christelle J. Go – Office of Congressman Mark Go
- Razzalyn M. Pecay – Documenter
Dr. Paulina Sawadan led an opening prayer to commence the preliminaries, followed by the participants' introduction of themselves. Atty. Benedicto R. Bacani, the Executive Director of IAG, delivered the welcome remarks. He shared that he founded the center in 2001 during his tenure as the Dean of the College of Law at Notre Dame University, in response to the increasing armed conflict in Mindanao. He believed that an autonomous arrangement could serve as a consensus solution to independence. Atty. Bacani also mentioned that this initiative is guided by the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which mandates the creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras. The IAG started working with Cordillera for autonomy in 2016, primarily with the NEDA-CAR headed then by Dr. Milagros Rimando. Atty. Bacani expressed optimism about the Autonomy Law, which is now advancing in Congress. The collaboration and solidarity between IAG and the advocates and supporters of Cordillera autonomy constitute a significant contribution. However, he emphasized the need for continuous information and education about autonomy for the constituents of the Cordillera. Atty. Bacani also mentioned the IP Champions Program, which trains IP leaders from the Cordillera and non-Moro IPs from the BARMM in preparation for Cordillera Autonomy.
Atty. Bacani provided an overview of the roundtable discussion, updating the participants on the legislation of the organic law for the Cordillera Autonomous Region. In the afternoon, participating CSOs will have a workshop reflecting on the inputs from the RTD and come up with suggestions on how they can help advance HB 3267. Atty. Bacani emphasized the importance of patience in achieving Cordillera Autonomy.
Mr. Jerome Jogno, Program Manager of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Philippines, delivered the message of Dr. Daniel Schmuecking, country director of KAS Philippines. He shared that the work of KAS in the Philippines focuses on political and electoral reforms, international security dialogues and forums, among others. KAS Philippines is passionate about discussions on political topics such as self-determination and believes in the power of democracy to shape the future of the Philippines. The discussion on granting political autonomy to the Cordillera Administrative Region has long been overdue, and the initiatives of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, such as this roundtable discussion, allow us to build momentum and exchange ideas to achieve genuine autonomy for the Cordillerans. KAS Philippines will continue to partner with IAG to provide spaces and platforms to discuss relevant issues and capacitate Cordillerans and the Filipino people in their active participation in democratic processes. Finally, KAS Philippines is excited to see the eventual establishment of the Cordillera Autonomous Region.
Hon. Jesse Allen Mangaoang, Representative of Kalinga in the House of Representatives, began the update on House Bill 3267 by providing a briefing. He stated that they are currently attempting to collect expressions of support from other provinces in the Cordillera, following Kalinga's lead, to be presented to the President, indicating that the people of the Cordillera are in favor of autonomy.
Meanwhile, Hon. Mark Go, Representative of Baguio City in the House of Representatives, gave a comprehensive update on House Bill 3267. According to Cong. Go, the roundtable discussion is an excellent opportunity to understand where they currently stand and to establish an autonomous region in the parliament country.
The creation of the Cordillera Autonomous Region will take effect when approved by a majority of the votes cast by the constituent units in a plebiscite, which must be held no earlier than three months but no later than six months after the effectivity of this Act. Only the provinces and cities that vote favorably in such a plebiscite will be included in the CAR, while those that vote unfavorably will remain within their current region.
In the 18th Congress, HB 5687 and HB 7778 were combined into one bill: HB 10729 An Act Establishing the Cordillera Autonomous Region, which was approved on third and final reading on May 30, 2022. This bill was sent to the Senate as SB 1232 but was not enacted into law due to a lack of time.
In the 19th Congress, Cordillera Congressmen resubmitted the bill as HB 3267 on August 8, 2022, and all Cordillera district representatives were the authors. It was initially referred to the Committee on Local Government, where it was approved on November 10, 2022. It was later referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, which approved it in December 2022. The Committee on Appropriations has yet to schedule a deliberation in 2-3 weeks' time. The Department of Finance and the Department of Budget are expected to meet to discuss their stance on the financial provision of the HB.
The Mindanao Congressmen have expressed support for HB 3267, and all members of Congress from the Cordillera have signed the bill as an expression of support.
The HB is expected to be approved by the Committee on Appropriations before the end of February and presented to the Committee on Rules. After that, it will be presented to the House for plenary discussion, and they are hopeful that it will pass the second and third readings, so it can be submitted to the Senate in March.
According to Cong. Go, their goal is not simply to establish an autonomous region to exercise their democratic rights within the context of an autonomous region. They also aim to improve the quality of life in the Cordillera, particularly in terms of the poverty gap, quality of education, and social services, which should be better than what they currently have.
Question and Answer
Dr. Rimando: Is there really a need for a lobby group who will try to discuss with the members of the Congress, Senate, and the Office of the President?
Cong. Go: It will not harm us if we have the lobby group but your seven congressmen from the Cordillera Administrative Region are doing everything possible to ensure that the Bill will be approved in the House of Representatives.
Cong. Mangaoang: That’s precisely the strategy that we are trying to do now, the manifestation of support of the provinces.
Dr. Dumaguing: Do we have a timeline of the possibility of having the President certify this (HB 3267) as urgent? What’s the possibility that he will mention (Cordilleran Autonomy) in his SONA in June? What specifically is the manifestation of support needed for this?
Cong. Mangaoang: We re-strategized, that if possible, through the RDC, all the provinces will have a manifestation of support using signature campaigns.
Cong. Go: Support should be present in the respective committee during Committee hearings. When manifesting support, be specific. What exactly do you want to delete, amend, and the likes in the provisions of the Bill.
Atty. Bacani: What are the reasons why the autonomy was rejected before? What are the changes that can prove that concerns were addressed?
Dr. Rimando: There were many reasons for the rejection in the 1990 and 1998. One of these were the various negative campaigns that were done by certain industry sectors, NGOs, and church. During the second time, one reason given was the short campaign/IEC on the Organic Act. But on both cases, it is always said that the main reason is the very weak awareness and IEC.
Dr. Rimando: Based on the pulse surveys conducted, in 2012-2013 more than half were undecided and awareness and support is very low. But we have seen the reversal through the pulse surveys. In the year 2014-2015, awareness and support is very significant and that continued in the next surveys.
Atty. Bacani: What are the issues that contributed to the rejection?
Dr. Rimando: There was a question in the survey, “Do you think that Cordillera is ready for autonomy?”, and the dominant answer was “We are not economically prepared”. Maybe people do not understand the economic aspects of autonomy. Second dominant answer is “we are not yet politically mature”.
Cong. Mangaoang: The conflict between the CPLA and NPA also contributed to the rejection of the autonomy in the 1990s because this left negative impact on the people. Another is the taking over of the CPLA of the region’s security if autonomy will win.
Current Interventions and Plans for Cordillera Autonomy from Relevant Agencies
During the event, Dr. Stephanie F. Christiansen, Assistant Regional Director of NEDA-CAR and RDC-CAR Secretary, presented the current interventions being done by the Regional Development Council (RDC) – CAR through the Social Preparation of CAR into an Autonomous Region (SPCAR) Program. These interventions include Information, Education, and Communication campaigns, Alliance Building engagements, and Capability Building. She also shared the results of the 2021 Pulse Survey on Cordillera Autonomy, which highlights the current level of the region’s awareness and support for the autonomy pursuit.
According to ARD Christiansen, the recent survey shows that 61% of the respondents are aware of Cordillera Autonomy. Moreover, 71.74% are likely to vote for autonomy in a plebiscite in the future, with all provinces and one city voting "yes" to autonomy.
The SPCAR Program was created through RDC Resolution No. 08 s. 2006, with the aim of creating a structure and mechanism to operationalize the work on regional autonomy. Regional Autonomy is the overarching theme for Cordillera development. In messaging, the focus is on emphasizing that regional autonomy will hasten socio-economic development in the region. Furthermore, the program prioritizes the identification and setting of target areas and sectors that need more awareness and support for the advocacy.
The program has three main components: Information, Education, and Communication, Alliance Building, and Capability Building. Under Information, Education, and Communication, the program includes updating the Autonomy IEC modules, intensified grassroots IECs, multi-sectoral IECs for identified sectors, production and distribution of Autonomy IEC collaterals, multi-media IECs, and Cordillera month celebration in 2023. Alliance Building includes the SPCAR Partners Assembly and Workshops, autonomy summits and engagements with national government offices, and the 37th Sipat Commemoration. Capability Building involves training, organization, and operationalization of the new Autonomy IEC Speakers’ Bureau, organization of a technical working group (TWG) to review the Autonomy IEC modules, and creation of a 2023 IEC Plan by the TWG to review priority projects and activities.
In addition, Ret. Gen. Bismarck Soliba, consultant of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (OPAPRU), provided an overview of OPAPRU’s engagements in different alliance-building activities and affirmed their support for the continued quest of Cordillera toward regional autonomy.
Ret. Gen. Soliba expresses concern that Benguet has already exhausted its resources and questions why other provinces should share their resources with Benguet. Mr. Pekas highlights the essence of autonomy which includes sharing and managing resources. Cong. Go emphasizes that resources go beyond mining, and suggests finding new ways to develop the region. RD Tibaldo suggests expanding the surveys to include those willing to participate and be mobilized to create multipliers. Dr. Sawadan suggests having a native IEC Speaker to better explain regional autonomy. Cong. Mangaoang proposes putting the block grant in a trust fund to harness natural resources for subsidies. Atty. Kiwang stresses the need for more time for IEC since previous rejections were due to lack of understanding. Ms. Chulsi suggests creating modules in different dialects to better understand the House Bill. Ms. Tabanda suggests strengthening Civil Society Organizations and improving communication plans. In response to a question from Australia about intergovernmental relations in the HB, Cong. Go notes that the President exercises general supervision over the Regional Government to ensure that laws are executed properly.
The closing remarks were delivered by Ms. Mary Jacqueline Fernandez, the Deputy Executive Director of IAG. She expressed her gratitude for the informative presentation of the resource persons and the active participation and sharing of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and leaders, making the discussion on House Bill 3267 of the Cordillera Autonomy fruitful. She also expressed her appreciation to the notable persons and organizations who are with IAG and Cordillera in the fight for regional autonomy.
The workshop on CSOs was facilitated by Dr. Milagros Rimando, which facilitated an exchange of ideas, comments, suggestions, and recommendations between the representatives of the CSOs.
During the workshop, Dr. Aquino suggested that the CSOs should update their manifestos to be delivered by the SPCAR to the concerned leaders and officials, given that a new bill has been introduced. Ms. Tabanda also suggested that the term "CSOs" is too broad and should be changed to "multi-sectoral CSO," which would include representatives from business and other private sectors. She also emphasized the need to consider whether the CSOs have the necessary resources and expertise to discuss the legal and financial aspects of the autonomy.
As a conclusion to the workshop, the CSOs identified five priorities to advance the legislation of House Bill 3267, including:
- Formulating CSO manifestos to be submitted to the respective Senators who are also in support of the Cordillera Autonomy, preferably within the month of February.
- Organizing capability building sessions for the expanded CSO group to discuss the House Bill and fiscal viability report findings. This will also be an opportunity for action planning over the next three years.
- Supporting IEC, Communication Plan implementation, improving modules, and conducting pulse surveys.
- Considering lobbying efforts at the local, regional, or national level.
- Preparing for the plebiscite that will follow the approval of the House Bill.