These days, around the Cordillera region including the city of Baguio, certain local government officials have the region’s autonomy at the top of their minds and mouths. Good for them but ask a city resident, voting age, at random and I would surmise only 1 in 50,000 would know the implications of autonomy to the city, the content of the Draft Third Organic Act, or the implications of the provisions therein. This is a repeat of the level of knowledge among locals last time they voted down autonomy for the region. Obviously, the elect at city hall have not learned the lesson.
In March, father attended an orientation on autonomy organized by the barangay officials. I learned that the orientation was only about ‘what is autonomy’ and not, as I was expecting, the content or provisions of the Draft Third Organic Act and its implications. The speaker is a lawyer for BENECO, the city’s supplier of electricty. What’s a BENECO’s lawyer doing in the role of an LGU official or officer? He said the Mayor told him to. In the city, Loakan has the largest population of Ibalois, indigenous peoples of Benguet Province including its chartered city Baguio, not known for their affiliation with the Mayor from Mountain Province. Anyway, barangay residents went out of the meeting hall with not a significant learning about the Draft Third Organic Act.
On a similar vein, Jimmy Laking, columnist of Baguio Midland Courier, in his commentary A Look at an Autonomy IEC, says local officials in Benguet Province have not been consulted yet about the Draft Act and were bristling at the setting of a deadline for proposals by the “Mayor from Baguio City.” Moreover, Benguet local officials only came to know about the details during the IEC. Laking continues that while local officials of Benguet were decided on consulting their constituents and were prepared to go through the process given more time, those riding the autonomy train obviously have their minds already set and were merely going through the motions like people possessed.
In a news article in the same paper, it was reported that comments on the Draft Organic Act were on grammar, terminologies, and the like, but nothing about the content, which is the purpose of the consultation. The editors could work on the editing after. But what do you expect when in the first place no one in the audience knows why there is Organic in the Act? On the other hand, it takes humility more than courage for one to stand up and ask the resource speaker to go through each of the provisions because one has not understood them yet; foolish pride is when you sit there until it’s time to go as if you’ve understood everything but actually didn’t.
Of the five principles of regional autonomy, four detailed where money will be coming from: Non-diminution of existing benefits and powers being enjoyed under a regular administrative region; continuous national budgetary allocation for regional agencies; additional annual subsidy from the national government; sustained national budgetary allocation. On these alone, I don’t think that local proponents of autonomy fully understood their core responsibility within the context of regional autonomy. It shows that local proponents are not serious about generating funds independently to finance growth and development in the region. So what’s the point of going autonomous when 99% of your budget comes from father or mother?
I’m for regional autonomy (my reasons I may write about in a separate article) because it works, especially benefiting indigenous peoples. Around the world, there are examples: Hongkong in China; Ireland and Wales in the UK; Yogyakarta and East Timor in Indonesia. It works IF the governance system as well as public administrators are effective. Otherwise forget it, the region if granted autonomy would only serve as a breeding ground of tyrannical pursuits.
In Baguio City alone now, governance is not living up to ‘good.’ City hall cannot even deliver basic public services such as garbage collection and sanitary disposal and freeing up main roads used as free private parking spaces, so imagine the added chaos when autonomy is granted! Like the parable of talents, one must show that one is responsible even with the little talents he or she is given, and having shown that only then would more talents be given him or her.