THE House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading a bill providing for the creation of the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera (ARC).

The bill in question, House Bill (HB) 5687, or the Cordillera Autonomous Region Bill, would create a politically autonomous region in the current Cordillera Administrative Region, covering the current provinces of Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mountain Province, as well as Baguio City.

The bill, if passed into law, will allow the Cordillera region to practice self-governance that provides its residents freedom to pursue “political, economic, social and cultural development within the framework of national sovereignty and in accordance with the Constitution.”

Under the bill, the ARC will remain an “integral and inseparable” part of the Philippines’ territory, while downloading major national government powers to local governments in the region. In particular, education, health, human resources, science and technology, and people empowerment are to be downloaded to the local governments in the ARC.

One of the bigger provisions for the bill is the proposed equitable share in the national budget as well as development assistance, which may be subject to pre-audit by the Commission on Audit and knowledge and capacity building for the local governments to properly utilize the internal revenue allotments.

Among the other salient provisions of HB 5687 are the establishment of a democratic regional government, prior and preferential right to the resources of the ARC for residents and locals, and the right to initiate measures for passage, amendment, and repeal of regional or local legislation, receive consultation on matters that would affect ARC residents, call on referendums and plebiscites, and recall regional or local officials as provided by the Local Government Code of 1991.

Baguio representative Mark Go, one of the principal authors of the bill, assured that the three-decades long process of creation of the ARC represents the will of the Cordillerans, saying that the drafting of the bill “involved the collaboration of different representatives of the Cordillera provinces in efforts to come up with a measure that represents the true aspirations of Cordillerans”.

“Since 1987, the Cordillera region has been placed under a transitory system of administration in preparation for a politically autonomous Cordillera, and that the current administrative region was ‘not meant to serve our region in perpetuity’,” Go said.

Meanwhile, House BIll 9215, which would create the Metropolitan Baguio City, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba and Tublay Development Authority (MBLISTTDA), is due to be ratified by both chambers and be transmitted to the president for signing soon.

The MBLISTTDA would be a government authority responsible for planning and implementing basic services and development in Baguio City and the neighboring municipalities of Benguet, without encroaching on autonomy of the local governments.

According to Go, the creation of the MBLISTTDA  would provide sustainable social and economic growth for the people of the territories under it.