A new Cordillera Autonomous Region

Published April 4, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola


In the widespread concern shown by our officials for the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, we have tended to forget the other autonomous region provided in our Constitution – the Cordilleras of Northern Luzon. This is the home of some 1.2 million indigenous peoples generally known to lowlanders as Igorots although they actually belong to several ethnolinguistic groups.

Before the Holy Week break, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri filed a bill to establish the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera (ARC) to replace the present Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). The CAR had been set up, along with the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), pursuant to Section 15, Article X of the Constitution which provides:

“There shall be created autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras, consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty, as well as the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”

In the 31 years of the 1987 Constitution, Zubiri said the Cordillera region has yet to achieve real autonomy. It is today a progressive region contributing 1.8 percent to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), principally through its agricultural production of cabbage, rice, and corn.

With greater autonomy as the ARC, the Cordilleras under the Zubiri bill will continue to have an annual assistance of P10 billion for the first five years and P5 billion for the next five years, while the local government units will continue to receive their Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA) like the rest of the nation’s LGUs.

But as an autonomous region, it will have “the opportunity to decide on what policies and programs will best fit the region and, at the same time, have the freedom to pursue their political, economic, social, and cultural development within the framework of the national sovereignty and in accordance with the local practices and cultural heritage and identity,” Zubiri said.

The Cordilleras people are well known to the rest of the country for their distinctive mountain culture. They now live in the provinces of Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province, and the city of Baguio. The provinces and city which vote in a plebiscite for the establishment of the autonomous region would form the ARC.

The organization of ARC in the far north of the country could serve as model for other regions of the country should a federal system of government be set up for the country under a new Constitution. There will be the other region in the far south – the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, for which a law has also been filed in Congress.

In between these two regions will be several other possible autonomous regions – Northern Luzon’s Ilocano provinces, Central Luzon, Metro Manila, Southern Luzon, Bicol, Western, Central,, and Eastern Visayas, Northern and Southern Mindanao. These will have to await the approval and ratification of a new Constitution.

In the meantime, we can watch the development and growth of ARC and Bangsamoro, learn from their problems and trials, to help in the formation and development of the other proposed regions of the country.