Rebels still dream of Cordillera's autonomy
Rosalinda L. Orosa (The Philippine Star) - January 31, 2013 - 5:38pm

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines -- The "old guards" of the  Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army “old guards” are still dreaming of Cordillera’s regional autonomy.

Despite numbering now to only about a thousand, Abrenian Melchor Balance or "Kumander Kawar" to his colleagues, said the group's fighting spirit still lives. Kawar formally took over as Officer-in-charge (OIC) of the CPLA the other day after former Bucloc Mayor Mailed Molina went on leave  after filing his candidacy as vice governor of Abra.

Kawar, who was an original member of the rebel Tingguian Liberation Force (TLF) which merged with the splintered NPA Abra in 1986 to form the CPLA said, “kailangang isulong ang awtonomiya (autonomy must be pursued).”

"Even with our number, we will continue [to fight] because it is an aspiration," said Kawar at his office at the “Camp Conrado Balweg” in the Cordillera Regional Assembly building along Harrison Road here.

The CPLA wanted to become the Cordillera Regional Security Force (CRSF), a provision of Executive Order 220 signed by President Corazon Aquino in 1986 when the government forged a peace pact with the group at Mt. Data Hotel in Bauko, Mt. Province.

EO 220 also mandated the now deactivated Cordillera bodies--  Cordillera Executive Board (CEB), Cordillera Regional Assembly and Cordillera Bodong Administration – to lay down the ground work for an autonomous region.

“It is only deactivated, but never dissolved,” said former labor leader Manuel Liwanen, former CEB director.

The Cordillera bodies were deactivated by President Joseph Estrada in 2001 and were only given a P1 annual budget.

Kawar,  who was surrounded by a handful of his CPLA “commanders” from Abra, Mt. Province, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Apayao during Wednesday’s “renewal of vows for autonomy” said  "only the time-tested CPLA [members] have remained loyal" to the group.

He also taunted CPLA members who have forged another agreement with government, which would supposedly close down the CPLA as an organization.

"We know who the originals are," Kawar said.

A faction led by Ifugao Arsenio Humiding has  become a socio-economic group recognized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Proces (OPAPP), and is now undertaking multi-million projects under the Pamana program.

Kawar seemed to have found an ally in Sta Marcela, Apayao Mayor Rolando Guiang.

Guiang,  who vows to pursue a dialogue for the  region's autonomy, said  the road to such a dream is thorny but what is important is that Cordillerans are moving on to pursue it in the name of progress and development. - Artemio A. Dumlao

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