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Cordillera Autonomy: The Struggle for Self-Determination in the Philippines

The Cordillera people of the Philippines have long sought autonomy. Learn about their history, reasons, and future.

The different tribes of the Cordilleras Photo: Lenmuel Sacla

The Cordillera region of the Philippines is home to a number of indigenous groups, including the Ifugao, Kalinga, Bontoc, Kankanaey, and Apayao. These groups have a long history of fighting for their rights, and they have been at the forefront of the movement for Cordillera Autonomy.

The movement for Cordillera Autonomy began in the early 1980s, when a number of indigenous groups began to organize and demand greater self-determination. These groups argued that the central government had not adequately protected their interests, and that they needed more control over their own affairs.

In 1986, the new Constitution of the Philippines was ratified. This Constitution included a provision for the establishment of autonomous regions in the country, including one in the Cordillera. However, the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) was proposed in 1989, but it was not ratified by the people of the Cordillera region.

The plebiscite for the ratification of the Organic Act for the Cordillera Autonomous Region was held on January 30, 1990. The Organic Act was rejected by the people of the Cordillera region, with only the province of Ifugao voting in favor of autonomy.

Two Organic Acts for the creation of the Cordillera autonomous region were adopted in 1990 and 1998. However, both proposals were rejected by the Cordilleras in separate plebiscites. Following these two failed attempts, extensive information dissemination campaigns and public consultations were conducted to create a bill that would truly reflect the needs and aspirations of the people of the Cordilleras for regional autonomy.

The future of Cordillera Autonomy is uncertain. However, the movement continues to gain support, and it is possible that a future plebiscite could result in the creation of an autonomous region.

Reasons for Seeking Autonomy

The Cordillera people have been seeking autonomy for a number of reasons, including:

  • To protect their land and resources from exploitation by outsiders. The Cordillera region is home to a number of valuable natural resources, including gold, copper, timber, and water. These resources have been exploited by outsiders for centuries, and the Cordillera people have seen their land and resources depleted. Autonomy would give the Cordillera people more control over their land and resources, and it would help to protect them from exploitation.
  • To promote their own culture and identity. The Cordillera people have a rich culture and identity that is distinct from the rest of the Philippines. Autonomy would give the Cordillera people more freedom to preserve their culture and identity, and it would help to ensure that their voices are heard in national and international forums.
  • To have more control over their own affairs. The Cordillera people have long felt that they have been marginalized by the central government. Autonomy would give the Cordillera people more control over their own affairs, and it would help to ensure that their needs and priorities are met.
  • To improve their economic and social conditions. The Cordillera region is one of the poorest regions in the Philippines. Autonomy would give the Cordillera people more freedom to develop their own economy, and it would help to improve their social conditions.

Factors That Could Influence the Future of Cordillera Autonomy

The future of Cordillera Autonomy could be influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • The outcome of the 2022 Philippine elections. The new government could be more or less supportive of the movement for autonomy.
  • The development of the mining industry in the Cordillera region. If mining becomes more widespread, it could lead to increased support for autonomy among the Cordillera people. However, it is also possible that increased mining could lead to increased opposition to autonomy, if the Cordillera people feel that their land and resources are being exploited.
  • The changing global climate. Climate change is already having a significant impact on the Cordillera region, and it is likely to have an even greater impact in the future. This could lead to increased support for autonomy among the Cordillera people, as they seek to protect their land and resources from the effects of climate change.


The movement for Cordillera Autonomy is a complex and challenging one. However, it is a movement that is rooted in the long history of struggle and hope of the Cordillera people. The future of Cordillera Autonomy is uncertain, but the movement is likely to continue to be a major force in the region for many years to come.

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