As the mountains have embraced them, the Cordillerans, in return, keep on protecting the mountains they made their home. With the mountains as their shield, the Cordillerans remained free from Spanish colonization. And with its people, the Cordillera was spared of being looted of its rich mineral deposits.
During the American occupation, many Cordillerans bleed inside for being helpless while their beloved mountains are raped by mining companies. Many of them have to left their settlement. Worst, some of them have to work for the invading companies to survive.
The granting of the Philippine independence did not resolve the powerlessness of the highlanders in protecting and managing their ancestral domain. The need to fuel the growing nation's economy shadowed the environmental concern and the patrimony rights of the Cordillerans. Mining explorations were unabated and are even expanded. Problems intensified when the Marcos administration, in guise of national development, forcibly imposed projects that cause further displacement of the indigenous residents and outright change on the topography of Cordillera.
The Creation of Cordillera Administrative Region
The Cordillerans did not take lightly the damages brought by mining and damming in their territory. They not only lose their land, their rights were also trampled. Thus, the Marcos government's plan to build more dams, expand mining explorations and establish paper mills fueled their anger and indignation. While majority remain passive and grumbled silently, others fought back by joining the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) and other mass-based groups. Within those organizations, the clamor to free the Cordillera from oppressive governance and have it managed by it's people resounded greatly giving birth to the cry for Cordillera autonomy.
One group who advocated for Cordillera autonomy is the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA) of the CPP-NPA. Though created only in February 1986, (while the world was focused on the EDSA Revolution), it's founder, the Tingguian Fr. Conrado M. Balweg had been with the communist party for a time. Two months after it was created, the new group broke away from its mother organization due to ideological differences. The CPLA was one of the respondents to President Cory Aquino's call for all revolutionary forces to a peace dialogue. (The dialogue was a part of the Aquino's national reconciliation advocacy immediately launched after she took over the presidency by virtue of EDSA People Power.)
Another group involved in the negotiation for Cordillera autonomy is the Cordillera Bodong Association (CBA). The group became the administrative arm of the CPLA and was later known as Cordillera Bodong Administration. (Click here to read more about CBA).
After initial talks, on September 13, 1986 in Mount Data in Mountain Province, President Aquino signed a ceasefire agreement with Fr. Conrado Balweg (as commander of the CPLA) and Mario Yag-ao (as President of CBA). The parties agreed that the Cordillera people will always undertake their demands through peaceful means and the creation of an autonomous region in Cordillera.
The peace talk between the Cordilleran groups and the Philippine government formally started in December, 1986 in Mansion House in Baguio City with Agapito "Butch" Aquino as the lead convenor. This time, slots were opened for other groups to be part of the negotiation. An umbrella group, the Cordillera Broad Coalition (CBC), was even formed to represent those who are not associated with the CPLA-CBA. However, the Cordillera People's Alliance (CPA) refused to be under the CBC for it claims to have more member organizations than the CBC thus it has to be the umbrella organization. The CPA later refused the seat offered to them to be part of the negotiation. The CBC on the other hand was left out of the picture as it has opposing views with that of the Fr. Balweg's group and the government decided to deal only with the CPLA-CBA.
(click here to know more about CPA, click here to read more about the history of CBA and CPA)
Source: Cordillera Autonomy: Looking Around and Farther Back
Solidifying the way for the enshrinement of a Cordillera autonomy is the ratification of the new Philippine Constitution in February 1987 which includes a provision on the making of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordillera. (see Article X, Section 15 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.) . The CPA was one of the staunchest lobbyists to the Constitutional Commission (ConCom) for the inclusion of Cordillera autonomy in the constitution.
A month after the ratification of the constitution, on March 27, 1987, Ambassador Pelaez, acting as Chief Negotiator of the Philippine government, flew to the Mansion House in Baguio City and signed with Fr. Balweg (this time as a Chairman of the Cordillera panel) a joint agreement wherein representatives of the Cordillera panel will join the study group from the government to draft an executive order. This order was to create a preparatory body that could perform policy-making and administrative functions and undertake consultations and studies leading to a draft organic act for the Cordillera.
On July 15, 1987, amidst the protest from CPA, CBC and private individuals, President Aquino signed the joint draft of the Balweg-lead group and the RP panel as Executive Order No. 220 of 1987 establishing the Cordillera Administrative Region geared to pave the way of the region's autonomy.
Charting the Way to Autonomy
The Philippine Congress enacted Republic Act (RA) 6658 in June 10, 1988 creating the Cordillera Consultative Commission.The Commission was tasked to assist Congress in their formulation of Organic Act for Cordillera autonomy. Sixteen months later, in October 1989, Congress passed RA 6766 or the Organic Act for the Creation Of Cordillera Autonomy.
The Organic Act was rejected during the plebiscite in January 1990. Only the province of Ifugao voted "Yes". All the other provinces of Abra, Benguet, Kalinga-Apayao, Mountain Province and the chartered city of Baguio gave a resounding "No".
The second organic act, RA 8438 or An Act To Establish the Cordillera Autonomous Region was passed in December 1997 and submitted for referendum in March 1998. This time, only the province of Apayao (which was then separated from Kalinga in 1995) gave the "Yes" vote. Ifugao, who voted affirmatively in the 1990 plebiscite reversed to "No".
There are lots of reasons cited why Cordillerans rejected the two organic acts - disinformation/misinformation, misappropriation of campaign funds, very short campaign period - to name a few. Whether those were true or not, it is very clear that the Cordillerans were not yet ready for autonomy or maybe, they don't want any autonomy after all.
Current Administrative Structure of CAR
Pending the ratification of an autonomy bill, Cordillera hereby remains as an administrative region. The structure, however, is now different from it's original creation in 1987.
In 2000, through E.O No 270, President Joseph Estrada ordered the final closure of the regional bodies in CAR created through E.O No. 220 of 1987. In effect, the administrative system of the region was left in limbo.
When President Gloria Arroyo took over, she issued E.O. No. 30 of 2001 establishing the Regional Development Council (RDC) of Cordillera which will have a regular set-up just like the other RDCs. (E.O. No. 325 of 1996 or The Re-organization of the Regional Development Councils provides the e guideline on the creation and function of RDCs). Generally, this overarching agency is created for "... administrative decentralization to strengthen the autonomy of the local government units therein and to accelerate the socio-economic development of the regions."
(To visit their website and to know more about Cordillera RDC, click here.)
Recommended further reading:
G.R. No. 79956 January 29, 1990
Cordillera Autonomy: Looking Around and Farther Back, by Fernando Bahatan
Elusive Cordillera autonomy
To keep their lands, they are raising fighters
Keynote Address by CPA Founding Chair, Atty. William Claver