BAGUIO CITY – A Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge formerly based in the city said that there is no legal impediment in the realization of an autonomous region in the Cordillera considering that the creation of an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera is explicitly provided in the 1987 Constitution.
Judge Cleto Villacorta III of RTC Branch 229 of Quezon City explained that the purpose for the establishment of autonomous regions is to accord the utmost respect to the rights and traditions of determined groups with a common tradition and shared social-cultural characteristics on account of their inherent right to develop freely their ways of life and heritage, maintain their traditional way of life, exercise their rights, and be in charge of their own business, especially because these rights have not always met a welcome response from the entrenched majority.
Further, the establishment of an autonomous region will allow the separate development of peoples with distinctive cultures and traditions, to free Philippine society of the strain and waste caused by the assimilationist approach, to recognize the reality that Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera do not belong to the dominant national community as the justification for conferring on them a measure of legal self-sufficiency, meaning self-government, so that they will flourish politically, economically and culturally.
He added that an autonomous region will also address exploitation, oppression and loss of identity among the indigenous peoples/indigenous cultural communities in the affected areas.
Villacorta explained that an autonomous region will indict the status quo of a unitary system that has ineluctably tied the hands of progress in our country, as our varying regional characteristics are factors to capitalize on to attain national strength through decentralization.
He claimed it will also establish a special governance regime for certain member communities who chose their own authorities from within the community and exercise the jurisdictional authority legally accorded to them to decide internal community affairs in a political structure that will respect the autonomous peoples’ uniqueness and grant them sufficient room for self-expression and self-construction.
More importantly, Judge Villacorta underscored that the establishment of an autonomous region will contribute in the attainment of peace and unity within the context of a diverse society.
However, he disclosed that the limit to regional autonomy include the powers of Congress over the treasury and to legislate, and the authority of Congress to abolish an office created by itself, provided that the office has not been created by the autonomous region contemplated in the Constitution. More importantly, he reminded that the creation of an autonomous region can only be installed within the framework of the current Constitution and national sovereignty, as well as the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.
“There can be no relationship of association between the national government and the autonomous regions. Among the indicators of such relationship are the capacity to enter into economic and trade relations with foreign countries, the commitment of the central government to ensure autonomous regions participation in meeting and events in the ASEAN and the specialized UN agencies,” Villacorta said./Dexter A. See