2022 Philippine Elections

Local politicians urge national bets to back Negros Island Region

Inday Espina-Varona
Local politicians urge national bets to back Negros Island Region

Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson (left) and Vice Governor Jeffry Ferrer raise the hands of Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri during their November 13 endorsement of his May 2022 re-election bid. Photo by Carla Canet

The objective is to bring together Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, and Bacolod City, into a single administrative region called the Negros Island Administrative Region

Political endorsements for national bets in Negros Occidental will hinge partly on their support for the restoration of the Negros Island Region.

While local political coalitions and slates still struggle to pick their presidential bets, Governor Eugenio Jose “Bong” Lacson and Vice Governor Jeffry Ferrer have already endorsed Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who filed Senate Bill No. 2453 or the Negros Island Region Act on Wednesday, November 17.

The bills seeks to bring together Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, and Bacolod City, into a single administrative region called the Negros Island Administrative Region.

“I was visiting Negros recently—it’s where my dad was born, actually—and the number one concern there is the reestablishment of the NIR,” Zubiri said in a statement released on Friday, November 19.

Ferrer confirmed on November 19 that many local politicians want the return of the Negros Region, representing the country’s fourth largest island. 

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At least two presidential bets in the 2020 elections, Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Ping Lacson have expressed support for the NIR.

Old friend

Ferrer told Rappler that their endorsement of Zubiri, whose family relocated from Negros to Bukidnon, is also due to his many contributions for the sugar industry over the years.

“It’s not just the NIR,” Ferrer explained in a telephone interview. “Migs (Zubiri’s nickname) has been a friend of Negros Occidental for a long time and very supportive of the sugar industry’s needs.”

Zubiri said he would continue to push for ways to lower fertilizer costs, which has burdened sugarcane growers during a November 13 press conference with the governor and vice governor of Negros Occidental.

After that press conference, Lacson said he would propose to politicians under the unified Love Negros-United Negros Alliance provincial slate to consider only national bets who back the Negros Island Region. 

Support for the NIR won’t be the sole factor for determining endorsements, Ferrer told Rappler. He also clarified previous reports quoting him as saying local politicians would campaign against national candidates that oppose the plan.

“It was just a figure of speech. I was half-joking,” Ferrer said. “Bonus points sya for a candidate. But those not yet ready to back the NIR will not necessarily strike out.”

Distance

The vice governor explained that Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental are at a disadvantage because of their current inclusion in two different regions, Region VI and VII, respectively. 

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“We are a bit distant from the regional centers and that usually means a slower flow of governance,” Ferrer said. “In terms of efficiency and access of residents to government services, the distance has some effect.”

Western Visayas is largely of Iloilo City and the provinces of Panay island, plus Guimaras, the small island province just off the coast of Iloilo. Negrenses need to take a one-hour ferry ride to reach Iloilo City.

Central Visayas’s center is Cebu City, some 167 kilometers away from Dumaguete City, the capital of Negros Oriental. It either takes a plane trip or a barge crossing, followed by several hours of land travel, for Dumaguete-based officials to reach the regional center.

Former President Benigno Aquino III signed Executive Order 183 in May 2015, allowing for the creation of the Negros Island Region, to accelerate social and economic development and improve the delivery of public services in the two provinces.

Mar Roxas, who ran for the presidency under Aquino’s Liberal Party in 2016, won overwhelmingly in Negros Occidental against eventual winner, President Rodrigo Duterte.

Zubiri said a law is needed for the new region “so that whatever administration we are under, the NIR will stay.”

He was referring to President Rodrigo Duterte’s August 2017 revoked Aquino’s executive order with Executive Order (EO) No. 38. The President had expressed opposition to the island-region as early as October 2016.

“The establishment of regional offices (ROs) of departments and agencies in the NIR requires substantial appropriation to be fully operational, thus competing with government priority programs and projects for funding,” Duterte wrote in his EO.

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“Everyone was really looking forward to the development of the region, and to have the earlier EO revoked that quickly was demoralizing, to say the least,” Zubiri recalled.

“Negrenses have been lobbying for the NIR as far back as the eighties, so its abolishment in 2017 was a blow. Sana nabigyan ng chance ang NIR (They should have given the NIR a chance).”

“Yes, the NIR will entail additional costs on the part of the national government but it’s worth the investment. In the long term, it would be more economical and efficient having the two provinces under one administrative region. Our people in Negros deserve accessible government services.”  – Rappler.com