Unity Gong Relay draws commitment for regional autonomy from provincial, city executives

By Michael Umaming and Christine Mamuyac

The gong relay, now in its third year, was conceived by the Development Administration Committee of the Regional Development Council (RDC) in its search for an activity that would draw all the provinces (including the city of Baguio) to the pursuit of regional autonomy. Judging by this year’s relay, it has become a ritual where the chief executives of the provinces make commitments towards this end thus it has also become a good media event.

The symbolic unity gong is moved from one province to another. The governors or their representatives serve as relayer and receiver usually at the political boundary area or at the seat of governance (capitol). They take turn in beating the gong at a designated area to sound-off the call for unity and they gave out messages on the move towards regional autonomy.

July 9, 2013

The gong relay started in Abra, the first province to host the Cordillera Day celebration after the RDC decided that the provinces, in alphabetical order, take turn in hosting the event.

The RDC, represented by its Vice Chairman Milagros Rimando, passed on the gong to Governor Eustaquio Bersamin.

Bersamin reminded that the Cordillera people have valiantly displayed unity in defending their ancestral domain against unwelcome intervention. He cited particularly the struggle against the damming of the Chico River and the logging activities of the Cellophil Resources Corporation.

But today the enemy is within, which is poverty and we need a united vision and action to combat it, he exhorted.

July 10, 2014

Mayor Mauricio Domogan of Baguio City accepted the gong from Bersamin. In his uggayam (traditional prayer/chant) he asked Kabunian (God) to help the Cordillera in its pursuit of autonomy which will bring pagsayaatan (development) to its people.

In the afternoon of the same day, he passed on the gong to Governor Nestor Fongwan of Benguet.

Fongwan talked about the continuing short-changing of the Cordillera region on matters related to hydroelectric power that it generates citing examples in the national wealth tax share of Benguet which had been drastically reduced. He said this is one reason for the Cordillera to fight for regional autonomy.

Earlier, the governor filed a case at the Energy Regulatory Board against the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM), San Roque Power Corporation (SRPC) and National Power Corporation (NPC). He cited the case of Bakun town where the water for these power generators is coming from. From the period 2011 to 2013, the town received only P4 million compared to the P14.18 million it received in 2010.

Barangay Tinongdan which gets P1.1 million annually from SRPC is now receiving P54,000 only for one year.

Fongwan also challenged the mayors of his province, most of whom were around. He asked them: Can you imagine your towns going back to Region 1 in the event the province rejects autonomy?

July 11, 2014

It was Fongwan’s turn to pass on the gong to Governor Leonard Mayaen of Mountain Province.

Mayaen was honest with his cynicism: I do not think we can achieve autonomy under the present administration. But we must strengthen our unity towards it as it definitely will mean a better Cordillera.

July 12, 2014

Will there be an autonomous region in the event a plebiscite will happen tomorrow?

In Ifugao, Governor Denis Habawel talked of KIA unity – that is Kalinga, Ifugao and Apayao which accordingly resolved together to vote for autonomy as this can be established with two or more provinces.

Ifugao and Apayao voted for Yes in the first and second plebiscites respectively with the latter giving almost 75 percent of its votes. Kalinga and Ifugao were just a few votes away from winning the second plebiscite with 46 percent and 47 percent Yes respectively.

Director John Castaneda of DILG-CAR was quick to add let us turn KIA into KAMI BA that is Kalinga, Apayao, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Baguio-Benguet and Abra.

In the evening of the same day, Kalinga accepted the gong from Habawel. Lawrence Bayongan, administrator of Tabuk, talked about the history of regional autonomy.

On the side, Kalinga leaders joked about what they call aphrology or the proper reading
of the pig’s apro (liver). Amidst the joke however was the message that the liver is saying good portents for Cordillera’s third attempt on regional autonomy.

July 13, 2014

In Apayao, Vice Governor Hector Reuel Pascua accepted the gong from the representatives of Kalinga.

At the Luna Gymnasium where the gong relay was held, teenage rappers entertained guests with a presentation that won a prize in a regional secondary schools’ talent competition.

Stomping In their Apayao native attires and accompanied by their indigenous instruments, the kids chanted: Iyapayao ako. Ipinagmamalaki ko ako ay Cordilleran!

July 14, 2014

It’s back to Abra where an Ilocano-Tingguian Cultural Night capped the day.

The significance of the event was made clearer by Bersamin’s opening message: I am an Ilocano married to a Tingguian and for 44 years our union remains as sweet as ever.

The next day was Cordillera Day and about 5,000 people paraded in the streets of Abra, many of them sharing Castan.eda dream of a Victory Gong Relay with regional autonomy established.#