BAGUIO CITY — The Consultative Committee (ConCom) reviewing the Philippine Constitution has heard the voice of the Cordillera people after a two-day public consultation it conducted here until Tuesday — a unified support for the conversion of Cordillera into an autonomous region towards the country’s shift to a federal form of government.
On Tuesday, the public consultation was capped by the signing of support by the participants.
On June 25-26, the ConCom sought the insights of the Cordillera people on federalism through several sessions. One was with the Philippine Military Academy, attended by over 500 officials and cadets. Another was a town hall meeting with various sectors of the Cordillera community, attended by about a hundred people. Another is a meeting with representatives of local governments, non-government organization, the Regional Development Council (RDC), regional line agencies, and private sectors, with an audience of over a thousand people.
The ConCom also held a convention of barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan officials, students, and professionals numbering about 2,500.
ConCom Commissioner Lawyer Laurence Wacnang, who hails from Cordillera, was glad over his fellow Cordillerans’ expression of support to federalism in a consultation held in Baguio City on Tuesday with over a thousand attendees.
“I think it was very positive. Of course, you cannot remove the apprehensions of people, when there are changes, there will always be doubts and speculations but in total, it was good. In fact, I could see in their faces that they will be endorsing federalism here in the Cordillera,” he said.
Wacnang, a former Kalinga provincial governor and representative, is an advocate of Cordillera autonomy.
“They are telling that they are a little bit confused on which is better, autonomy or federalism. The two are not mutually exclusive with one another because once we are federated, autonomy is already there. Now if you want to pursue autonomy, you have to do that within the framework of the 1987 Constitution, meaning Congress has to pass the organic act,” he explained.
“I was surprised with Manang Brigitte (former National Commission on Indigenous Peoples Commissioner Brigitte Pawid) to have agreed that our proposal is favorable to the Cordillerans and that to me says a lot,” remarked another ConCom commissioner, Dr. Virgilio Bautista, who also hails from the Cordillera and the former chairman of the Cordillera RDC.
Bautista, however, clarified that the clamor of one group for a regional security is not possible. “This is something that we cannot afford to have because there is no limit to having private armies and we cannot afford that in order to maintain peace and order, which is also agreed to by the Bangsamoro,” he explained.
Bautista assured that the draft Constitution the ConCom commissioners are set to hand over to President Rodrigo Duterte in early July reflects the desires of both the Cordillera and the Bangsamoro. “We did not reduce any of their self-governing authorities, but they have to respect that the Philippines is a sovereign country,” he said.
Baguio City Mayor and RDC Chairman Mauricio Domogan expressed support to President Duterte’s call for a shift to federalism through autonomy.
Baguio City Councilor Michael Lawana, who heads the regional federation of barangay captains, also relayed his group’s support to autonomy towards federalism.
Andres Ngao-I, chairman of the Kalinga Bodong Council and the Regional Indigenous Peoples’ Education under the Department of Education (DepEd), expressed satisfaction over the public consultation conducted by the ConCom in the Cordillera.
“Ok naman ito (this is okay). At least they have explained to us. But we will have still to see. They have a very good proposed Constitution but we do not know what will happen in Congress. What is important is they have heard us that we are for autonomy first before federalism,” he said.
Arthur Abbacan of Pasil, Kalinga said of the just-concluded public consultation of ConCom: “It’s successful. There should be consultations with all concerned stakeholders because this is new. We have learned from past experience, where the Congress changed a number of provisions of the autonomy bill. But now, with the strong leadership of President Duterte, maybe, this is the time for us, for our country to attain what we have been clamoring for in the region, aspiration as one IP region.”
Geraoloy Palao-ay of La Trinidad, Benguet said he had learned from the public consultation. “It’s clear now. We see the connection between our clamor for autonomy, as well as federalism,” he said.
He said he agrees with the proposal to have only one education department. “I go with that. Based on what we are seeing right now in the curriculum, there is still a disparity, confusion between DepEd and CHED, yung pagpasok ng bata from K-12 sa tertiary, kung iisa yan at least we have one voice one direction na connected lahat, including TESDA,” he opined.
Joel Cervantes of Benguet said the conduct of a consultation is good. “Very nice, Cordillera elected officials were given the chance to distinguish between federalism and autonomy. It was educational on our part,” he said.
Abra Vice Governor Ronald Balao-as said their group, the Unified Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army, supports autonomy towards federalism. “We have been fighting for regional autonomy in the Cordi for almost three decades,” he noted.
The support was echoed by PCOO Asec Marie Rafael, a native of Mountain Province.
The Center for Federalism and Constitutional Reform under the DILG also launched the logo “Pederalismo”, bearing the Philippine flag, an eagle, and the monument of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal./ (PNA)