More thoughts on Cordillera autonomy

by Estanislao Albano, Jr.

Seems to me that the pursuit of autonomy in the Cordillera is like a vehicle which only runs when it has fuel and the fuel in this case is government funds. The moment the government allocates money for a drive for autonomy, the vehicle moves. The moment the money runs out, all the talk about autonomy being the ideal setup for the region and its materialization ushering in an era of progress for the locality practically dies down until the next allocation comes along. This gives me grave doubts about the brilliance of the idea and the 100 percent conviction of its adherents about it being the correct system for the region. To my mind, a real brilliant idea would not lack for people who are willing to part with their own money and dedicate their unselfish efforts just to bring it to fruition. Sold to the idea, the availability of outside support to keep the drive going is not a condition for them to keep the campaign going. “If there’s a will, there’s a way” is their motto.

My question now is if Juan Ngalob of the Regional Development Council (RDC)  and Baguio City Congressman Maurice Domogan were private citizens, would they still be as ardent in the campaign for autonomy as now?

I know of a non-government group in the region which has been publicly criticizing the RDC for alleged misuse of the autonomy funds released by Malacanang in 2007 and yet at the next breath expresses the wish that it also be given a share in the said funds so that it could revive its own drive for regional autonomy.

Still on government money, granting that it’s true as alleged that  the Cordillera region is not getting its fair share from national government revenues, had the little money which has been coming in been put to good use all this time? I am asking that because not getting one’s fair share is no excuse to waste precious public resources. Who’s to blame for the misuse of the national government funds finding its way to the Cordillera? Will these leeches go out of fashion in an autonomous setup? If not, of what use will the new sources of funds for the region be? Of what use is changing the system?

This brings us back to the bottomline mentioned by Manong Ben two weeks ago. No matter how you change the system if the people will persist with their old attitudes, it will be for naught.

Just look at the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The last story I read in the papers about that region is the sentencing by the Sandiganbayan of former regional chief executive Zacaria Candao and some other officials to long jail terms for malversation of millions in public funds. If I am not mistaken, Nur Misuari, the foremost Muslim freedom fighter who also had the chance to be governor of the ARMM, could also not account for hundreds of millions. I have not read of positive stories about the region making substantial strides towards progress giving me grave doubts if the people of the region are now realizing the supposed benefits of the autonomous setup. Autonomy is supposed to change the life of Muslims and Cordillerans for the better and make them catch up with their fellow Filipinos who had come under the Spanish yoke otherwise the framers of the 1987 Constitution would not have thought of it. Basing on the experience of the ARMM so far, it’s about time we evaluate if indeed there’s truth to that belief.

What’s disturbing to note was that was that those who  peopled the bodies which were supposed to usher us to autonomy exhibited tendencies similar to what seems to pervade the bureaucracy of the ARMM . What is the guarantee that when more funds will be at the disposition of the regional leadership courtesy of the dawning of Cordillera autonomy the same will be put to proper use this time? Now if there is no such guarantee could be made, what good will autonomy bring to the people of the region?

As far as I am concerned, for so long as we do not change our reprehensible attitude and ways when it comes to government funds, the  Cordillera could become autonomous or even become an independent country but its lot  will not change as a result. On the other hand, if we give room to moral enlightenment and turn over a new leaf, there is nothing  under the present system which bars us from improving our regional condition.   

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