BAGUIO CITY February 01 – An autonomy and federalism expert underscored that House Bill (HB) 5343 or the bill that seeks to establish the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera (ARC) is less controversial compared to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that is being pursued by the administration for Muslim Mindanao, thus, its enactment into law should not encounter rough sailing in Congress.
Lawyer Benedicto R. Bacani, Executive Director of the Cotabato-based Institute of Autonomy and Governance (IAG), explained that based on the review done on the provisions of HB 5343, it clearly defined the relationship between the national government and the autonomous regional government and the metes and bounds of governance, that is, the sharing of powers.
“The distinct identity, culture and governance of the Cordillera is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. The only issue is the legislation of the autonomous region in the Cordillera as a region. ARC is not the Bangsamoro and its organic law is not the BBL. No constitutional amendment or change is required to pass it,” Bacani stressed.
The IAG official emphasized autonomy and federalism are not mutually exclusive since a regional autonomous government can exist under a federal system either as a federal state or a special autonomous region at par with federal states or under a federal state.
He pointed out it is critical that the regional autonomous government be in place before federalism to allow the regional government to have the leverage in negotiating with the federal states on whether it will be a special autonomous region in a federal state or it will be an independent federal state.
Under an autonomous set-up, Bacani stipulated that there will be an administrative decentralization of powers with the central government having most of the powers of government while in a federal set-up, there is shared rule and self-rule and the subsequent decentralization of powers.
The IAG is the partner of the Regional Development Council (RDC) in the Cordillera in the intensified lobby for the enactment of the proposed autonomy law in both chambers of Congress through the conduct of several fora to gain the needed attention from lawmakers.
Milagros A. Rimando, regional director of the Cordillera office of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA-CAR) and vice chairperson of the Cordillera Regional Development Council (RDC-CAR), disclosed that the IAG and RDC-CAR is currently arranging a meeting between Cordillera and Mindanao lawmakers anytime this month for the possible simultaneous deliberation of HB 5343 and the BBL in the House of Representatives while awaiting the certification from President Rodrigo R. Duterte that the proposed Cordillera autonomy law is a priority administration legislative measure.
Aside from the meeting between Cordillera and Mindanao lawmakers, Rimando added the IAG and RDC are also currently working out a separate forum on Cordillera autonomy with the senators to reiterate on them the importance of the passage of the autonomy law before the federal form of government will be put in place through the amendment of the 1987 Constitution.