Former Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel and Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito personally met with Cordillera leaders in a forum in Manila last week to assure their strong support to the aspirations for an autonomous region in the Cordillera.
The forum organized by the Cordillera Regional Development Council with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) was an offshoot of recent activities to drum-beat the third attempt for Cordillera autonomy.
Pimentel said this is the best time for the Cordillera autonomy to be discussed since the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which also has the same legal mandate as the Cordillera autonomy, has just been passed.
Just like in the Bangsamoro organic law, the passage of the Cordillera Autonomy bill in the Senate is no longer an issue, it is just a matter of time, he said.
He explained that this is possible with the filing by at least three senators namely Senator Miguel Zubiri, Senator Bam Aquino and Senator JV Ejercito, their versions of the act establishing the autonomous region in the Cordillera.
He said he would be filing the fourth Senate Bill on Cordillera Autonomy and would be working with other Senators to pass it in time.
Pimentel added that aside from the support in Senate, this is the best time for the Cordillerans to push for autonomy with President Rodrigo Duterte as a strong advocate of autonomy and federalism. He said that the passage of both Cordillera and Bangsamoro laws would be a legacy of the President.
“Let us really work on this. In the meantime, we need to prepare the support mechanism in the ground anticipating that the bill will become a law and then during the plebiscite our networks should be ready to support the approval of the bill,” Pimentel said.
It could be remembered that Pimentel was the first to file the Senate Bill on the creation of a Cordillera autonomous region back in 2012 but was overtaken by events.
In his message, Ejercito vowed his full support for the Cordillera autonomy and has already filed a Senate counterpart bill of House Bill 5343 or the act establishing an Autonomous Region in the Cordillera.
Ejercito said that he is giving his support to his fellow Cordillerans being an adopted son of two provinces, Kalinga and Mountain Province. “You have my full support for the preservation of our culture, heritage, and identify. I am one with you because I am a Cordilleran myself.”
He also assured that the Senate supports the passage of the law giving autonomy to the Cordilleras. “Rest assured that our support in the Senate is with the Cordillerans on the passage of its autonomy,” he said.
Sen. Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, in a video message presented during the event, also gave his support for a Cordillera autonomous status.
“We support the Cordillera autonomy, which is in our Constitution," said Angara who chairs the Senate Committee on Local Government.
Meanwhile, OPAPP Sec. Jesus Dureza urged the people of the Cordillera region to unite and work hard to finally achieve their overarching goal of regional autonomy.
Dureza, a staunch advocate of Cordillera autonomy, said the government is very supportive of Cordillera’s bid for autonomy “because it is provided in the Constitution.”
“Let your presence be known and I am sure you will not be ignored because it is your right under the Constitution to have your own Autonomous Region of the Cordilleras,” he said.
He hopes that the recently-enacted Bangsamoro Organic Law would serve as a template to address the aspiration of the Cordillerans to have their own autonomous region. (PIA CAR)