Not even the early July rains could dampen the spirit of unity as the symbolic Unity Gong made its way around the Cordillera region as part of the 28th Cordillera Month celebration.

Lined-up activities for this year’s Cordillera Month Celebration centered around the theme “Conserving the Environment towards a Greener Cordillera,” with the Sectoral Committee on Watershed and Environmental Management of the Regional Development Council (RDC)-CAR chaired by DENR-CAR as lead agency, and Apayao as host province.

Among the activities was the forum on the Declaration of Principles on Environmental Governance (DPEG) as a result of provincial and regional consultations lead by the Cordillera Studies Center of the University of the Philippines Baguio. DPEG was presented by NEDA RD Mila Rimando with DILG-CAR RD John Castañeda as one of the panelist last July 3 at UP Baguio.

The principles, according to RD Rimando, are “framed within the context of sustainable development, the region’s fragile environment and diverse indigenous culture that values natures as a source of life.”

The opening program last July 9 in Luna, Apayao is also the start of the Unity Gong Relay with DILG-CAR as lead agency. The convoy composed of representatives from different national agencies, members of the media, and local officials handed the gong from one province to the next starting from Apayao to Kalinga, Ifugao, Mt. Province, Benguet, Baguio, and Abra then back to Apayao on July 14 in time for the Cordillera Day Celebration on July 15. The gong was turned-over to the next province at the road boundaries, followed by tree planting and program usually at the provincial capitol or city hall. For Benguet, the program was conducted at the BSU Compound at Loo, Buguias. The DILG provincial offices coordinated the activities for the gong relay at the provincial level.

Not on its fourth year, the Unity Gong Relay has been a vehicle of advocacy for the Region’s quest for autonomy, as well as advocacy on the programs, projects and activities of the different national agencies. During this year’s relay, DILG-CAR distributed more than PhP 60M for projects to be implemented by different local governments.

While the gong went around the provinces, simultaneous activities were conducted in Apayao such as eco-tour, job and agri-trade fair, bio-diversity exhibit and forum where documentation by the Philippine Eagle Foundation on the presence of the Philippine Eagle in Apayao was presented, among others. A stakeholder’s night and Search for Dayag ti Cordillera was conducted on July 14 where Ms. Benguet was hailed the winner.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III was guest of honor and speaker during the 28th Cordillera Day Celebration on 15 July in Luna, Apayao attended by more than 5000 guest and delegates from the different provinces and cities in the region including local chief executives and other local officials, regional line agency heads and employees, non-government and private sector reps, student and the academe. Sen. Pimentel assured support to the quest for Cordillera Autonomy and vowed to be its champion in Congress.

A congressional hearing on HB 4649: An Act Establishing the Cordillera Region by the Office of Congressman Nicasio Aliping of Baguio City capped the day-long program in the afternoon.

Participants were appreciative of the hospitality of the host province, Apayao. Different LGUs were hosted by the different municipalities and housed in hotels and inns, when available, and in schools, while field offices of regional agencies took care of their respective counterparts.# Carol G. Gano