BAGUIO CITY: July 15 was a special non-working holiday in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
Thirty yeas ago, Executive Order No. 220 by former President Corazon Aquino created CAR — separating the provinces of Abra, Benguet, Mountain Province and the City of Baguio from Region I and the provinces of Ifugao, Kalinga and Apayao from Region II.
President Rodrigo Duterte also declared Saturday as a special non-working holiday in the CAR in time for the celebration of the region’s three-decade old anniversary.
Secretary Jesus Dureza speaking a day earlier here for the CAR anniversary gave premium to unity among Cordillerans to advance the long-sought dream for autonomy. “The Cordillera people need to unite for that dream for autonomy,” he said, also citing this year’s celebration: “CAR@30: A Celebration of Cordillera Unity”.
But no one from among the supposed prime movers for self-rule – the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) – showed up hinting that there is no unity among Cordillerans.
Mailed Molina, former mayor of Bucloc in Abra, one of the founders of the CPLA that splintered from the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army (CPP-NPA) in 1986, decried as “fake” the July 1 “unification” assembly in Bangued that supposedly installed Abra Vice Gov. Ronald Balao-as as “unified CPLA” chairman.
“Who is Balao-as in the CPLA?” Molina fumed as he challenged even Dureza and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Regional Development Council (RDC) to be circumspect in dealing with the different CPLA factions and apparently “fake” groups misrepresenting them.
Balao-as was reportedly sworn in by Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA) president Andres Ngao-i.
“True that there were unification plans,” Molina said, who together with former rebel leader Conrado Balweg, broke ties with the CPP-NPA in 1986 and forged a peace pact with the Corazon Aquino administration that resulted in the establishment of Executive Order 220 from where the present Cordillera Administrative Region is cued, “but different factions agreed to start the process and still have to finalize it.”
In April, CPLA faction leaders including Molina met with the National Economic Development Authority-Cordillera and OPAPP functionaries and agreed to iron out a CPLA unification agreement. “Leaders were assigned to make a proposal to fund the unification process,” he admitted, “so the process still has to start without agreements yet as to who will compose the leadership of the CPLA.”
The RDC dreamed of gathering the support of a unified CPLA to help advance regional autonomy.
Molina said the government “must be circumspect in dealing with the true CPLA members and genuine factions.”
At present, about 3,000 card-bearing members of CPLA factions in six Cordillera provinces were “disenfranchised with the fake installation of the so-called unified CPLA chairman,” Molina said.
“We defend the name of the CPLA because we pledged our sweat and blood with it in 1986 when we broke ranks with the CPP-NPA,” he added.
Balweg was assassinated by the Abra-based Agustin Begnalen Command of the CPP-NPA on December 31, 1999 due to supposed “blood debts” of the CPLA.
Recently House Bill 3454 was filed asking the President to sign it as urgent for the conduct of a plebiscite for the CAR government.