LA TRINIDAD, Benguet, July 21 (PIA) -- Cordillerans showed unity and solidarity towards the attainment of the Cordillera autonomy as the 6th Cordillera Unity Gong Relay completed its full circle last week.
The Cordillera Unity Gong relay kicked off from the Benguet Provincial Capitol and travelled to the six other provinces and two cities of the region with the aim of raising awareness on the campaign on regional autonomy in the entire region.
The 30th celebration of the Cordillera Month is hosted by the province of Benguet with the Regional Development Council – Committee on the Indigenous Peoples Concern chaired by NCIP Regional Director Roland Calde.
“As we start the celebration of the Cordillera Month this year, we are hoping for a better celebration this year as we look forward to the approval and passing of the bill for the creation of the Cordillera autonomous region, ” Benguet Gov. Crescencio Pacalso said.
As this year’s host of the 30th Cordillera Month, Benguet opted to change the Cordillera Unity Gong into a bigger gong that depicts a better chance of the autonomy this year, he said.
Before the new gong travelled with the delegates from Benguet and the RDC, Benguet elders held rituals and poured some wine unto the gong as part of the Cordillera tradition.
From Benguet, the gong travelled to the Mountain Province via the Halsema Highway where Gov. Bonifacio Lacwasan and Vice Gov Francis Tauli received the gong together with the officials and the people of the Montanosa.
Before the program proper, a traditional rituals and gong beating was done by Bontoc elders at the Multipurpose plaza where a pig was butchered and offered.
Gov. Lacwasan stressed that the people of Mountain Province despite the different culture and tradition in the different municipalities will stand as one in supporting the bid for an autonomous region of the Cordillera which promises development and a better life for the people. This would also provide better roads and infrastructure ensuring connectivity of all the provinces
From Mountain Province, the caravan passed thru the Mountain Province-Ilocos Sur Road via the historic Bessang Pass in Cervantes. The gong was received by the people of Abra led by Gov. Jocelyn Bernos and Vice Gov. Ronald Balao-as.
In her acceptance message, Abra Gov. Bernos said that the province of Abra is now a peaceful place and is now ready for the development which would be brought by the Cordillera autonomy. For years, the province lived in darkness due to the culture of violence that was instilled in the past but now the people of Abra are working together to attain a peaceful province which would also bring in development and progress to the Abrenians.
Abra Cong. Joseph Bernos in his message said that the seven lawmakers from the Cordillera united as one, signed and filed the bill which they believe will bring a better life in Abra and the Cordillera as well. Bernos said that it is high time that the people of Abra and the whole of the Cordillera should unite and work together to attain the dream of autonomy in the Cordillera.
Vice Gov. Ronald Balao-as, who is also the Chairman of the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army, assured that the CPLA who started the struggle for self-determination will be partners for peace in the attainment of Cordillera Autonomy.
The Unity Gong turnover also coincided the opening of the Abra Week for Peace or the Rambak ti Kappia, a celebration of peace for progress in the province of Abra.
From Abra, Gov. Bernos and Vice Gov. Balao-as and member of the CPLA travelled to Kalinga passing thru the Abra-Kalinga Road and turned over the gong to Kalinga Cong. Allen Jesse Managaong and Acting Gov. James Edduba at the highway boundary in the mountain ranges of the Balbalasang National Park in Balbalan, Kalinga before travelling to Tabuk City for the formal program.
Mangaoang called on his fellow iKalingas and the whole of Cordillera to support the move for Cordillera Autonomy towards Federalism which is the priority of President Duterte. He said that Cordillera needs to be in an autonomous status to ensure that the region will be in one state rather than being separated or be back to Regions 1 and 2 when federalism will be implemented.
Tabuk City Councilor Frederick Pangsiw led the cultural rituals and a toast to open the program at the Kalinga Provincial Gymnasium.
Edduba assured the support of the people of Kalinga for the approval of House Bill 5343 creating an Autonomous Region for the Cordilleras. He said this campaign for autonomy ensures a better opportunity and lives for the people of Kalinga a well as the people of the Cordillera
Tabuk City Mayor Ferdinand Tubban, meanwhile, said that all the Cordillera Municipal and City Mayors have filed a manifesto of support showing that all elected local chief executives in the region are one in pursuing the autonomy of the Cordillera and strongly urging President Duterte to make it a priority bill in Congress.
From Kalinga, the gong caravan travelled to the province of Apayao where local officials from Apayao received the gong at the highway tri-boundary between Cagayan, Kalinga and Apayao province. The caravan then travelled to the provincial captiol in Luna, Apayao for the formal program and turn over ceremony led by Gov. Elias Bulut Jr.
Edduba who led the delegates from Kalinga, said that the Cordillera Unity Gong Relay between the provinces of Kalinga and Apayao is an opportunity by both to reunite and revive their relationship with their brothers and sisters. Aside from the Cordillera Unity Gong Relay, the two provinces had Friendship Games with their respective officials playing basketball and volleyball. Kalinga and Apayao separated as two distinct provinces in 1995.
In his message, Apayao Gov. Bulut challenged the RDC and other officials to bring the Cordillera Unity Gong relay not only to the capital towns but also to the far-flung areas of the Cordillera to ensure that the campaign for Cordillera autonomy would be brought and be understood by more people in the grassroots. He added that the campaign today should now focus on educating the children and the youth who would be greatly affected when the region will become autonomous.
From Apayao, the caravan travelled to the province of Ifugao where Gov. Pedro Mayam-o and Vice Gov. Jordan Gullitew received the unity gong at the highway boundary in Lamut, Ifugao before travelling to the Capital town of Lagawe.
Ifugao elders or mumbaki perform rituals to kick off the turnover program with the prayers and butchering and offering of a native pig.
During the program, Gov. Mayam-o stressed that the turnover of the gong of both provinces is symbolic since the two provinces have voted yes to autonomy in the previous plebiscites.
The caravan then proceeded to to the city of Baguio passing thru the Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya Road.
For the Unity Gong Relay program in Baguio City, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza affirmed his support to Cordillera’s pursuit of regional autonomy.
Dureza announced that he was able to work out a meeting between President Duterte and the Cordillera officials on July 18 in Malacanang so that they can personally talk with the President about the region’s aspiration to become autonomous. He advised the Cordillera leaders that if ever they get the support of the President, the region must not become complacent and continue to engage the people of Cordillera for better understanding of what autonomy means to the region and to solicit their support to vote for autonomy.
Citing the diverse culture in the Cordillera, Dureza also encouraged the regional leaders not to engage the people collectively but as much as possible per ethnic or cultural group. “Work for unity in diversity”, he stressed.
In the same program, the Regional Development Council chairperson Mayor Mauricio Domogan with vice – chair NEDA Regional Director Milagros Rimando led the adoption of Dureza as a son of Cordillera. Dureza was presented with a Cordillera garb, shield and spear as well as an official document that he is now officially a son of Cordillera with the name “Mensapit”, a Kankanaey word that means peacemaker or saviour.
From Baguio City, Mayor Domogan turned over the gong back to the province of Benguet in time for the 30th Cordillera Moth celebration program.
The call for unity of the Cordillera Unity Gong Relay paid off following the united effort of the Cordillerans who went to the Malacanang Palace on July 18 to show to the President that the people in the region led by their elected leaders are one in pursuing the Cordillera Autonomous Region. (JDP/RMC- PIA CAR)