by Estanislao Albano, Jr.
I enjoyed reading fellow writer Ben Feken’s thoughts on Cordillera autonomy. I felt he has given voice to things within me which up to this time I have not taken the time to ponder on and articulate. After reading it, I texted him saying that I agree with him all the way. He replied that it would be a good idea if I said something about the so here we go.
Right from the start, I was wary about the idea of Cordillera autonomy and I was one of those who breathed sighs of relief when it was turned down twice by the electorate. My foremost objection was that all that talk about the new system correcting the alleged discrimination against Cordillera natives by other Filipinos was misplaced. My idea then and now is that if indeed such a discrimination exists, the cure is not in pursuing exclusivity but in joining the mainstream and proving oneself to be equal with other Filipinos. In clinging to their culture and opting to live in reservations, the American Indians have condemned themselves into a time warp. By contrast, by refusing to succumb to the odds and not giving up in their fight for equality with the whites, the American blacks now have earned a place in American society. In fact, one of their number now leads that country.
How would the talent search organizers and the television viewers have reacted had the late Marky Cielo asked for a handicap since he was an Igorot?
For me, autonomy is just a telltale sign that we are unequal with the rest of the Filipino nation. It is like a crutch which proclaims to the world that one is lame and could not run in a race with the majority. The right response to discrimination is not to fight for special treatment but to prove to all and sundry that one could compete with the majority. Asking for special treatment is in itself an admission of the inferiority and oddness that the majority is tagging you with and which offends you no end.
As a half-Ilocano, I am also fearful that in an autonomous set up, the pendulum would swing to the other end with the alleged victim of discrimination becoming the discriminator (if there is such a word). With all this stress on indigenous culture and heritage being made by the people who are fighting for autonomy, what is the guarantee that reverse discrimination will not occur in the new set up? I suspect that this fear is one of the factors which contributed to the defeat of the autonomy in Baguio City during the two plebiscites. Talking about Baguio City, could you imagine a Cordillera Autonomous Region sans the city? It would be like a being without the core or heart. I have a gut feel that because of the concerns of Baguio City’s non-indigenous population, that’s exactly what the autonomous region would look like if ever it does materialize. Even if the foremost never say die advocate of autonomy is the city’s three-term congressman.
Which brings me to my second objection to Cordillera autonomy – the uncertainty of the realization of the advantages of which autonomy advocates talk about no end. I am referring to the mismanagement of the efforts and finances which were supposed to usher in Cordillera autonomy which Manong Ben described in his column to some disturbing extent. What is the guarantee that such shameless selfishness and wanton disregard of the welfare of the majority of the residents of the Cordillera will not mark the administration of the Cordillera Autonomous Region? What is the guarantee for example that when we have greater say in the usage of our natural resources, the revenues that will accrue will be used for the good of the people? I am ready to grant that autonomy is a better system than what we have at the moment but where will the people who could be trusted to operate it come from? Short of having angels from heaven come down to run the region with the present crop of politicians we have, it is likely that autonomy will just add a new group of thieves into our bureaucracy and we will become as corruption-ridden as the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. In the first place, if the political leaders of the city and provinces composing the region have been and are doing their jobs honestly, sincerely and effectively, it is possible that the region would now be at par with other regions negating any necessity for a special set up as a means of getting of the backwardness the proponents of autonomy are talking about.
Relative to personalities in the drive for autonomy, I heard an unverified story that one of the reasons the organic act was not ratified in one of the provinces of the region during the 1997 plebiscite were streamers along the highways proclaiming that the late Fr. Conrado Balweg was for autonomy. It is possible that the story is true. And that should give some groups and individuals now yakking about autonomy whose motives are doubted by the people the hint. If they really want to give autonomy a chance, they should now shut their mouths. Better still, they should execute a turnaround and start campaigning against autonomy as passionately as they have been promoting it.