2019 elections a rematch for top Palawan gubernatorial candidates

OPPOSING VIEWS. Incumbent Governor Jose Alvarez (R) and former vice governor Arthur Ventura, both gubernatorial bets, differ on the issue of dividing Palawan into 3 provinces.

Photos from their official Facebook accounts

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – Palawan residents on Monday, May 13, are set to choose the governor who may influence public opinion on the 2020 plebiscite for the law splitting Palawan into 3 provinces.

For the 2019 midterm elections, the gubernatorial seat is being contested by pro-division incumbent Governor Jose Alvarez and anti-division bet, former vice governor Arthur Ventura.

This is a rematch for the two, who first fought over the top provincial post in the 2016 elections. Ventura previously trailed behind Alvarez by around 95,000 votes.

Alvarez is running under the banner of President Rodrigo Duterte's PDP-Laban, while Ventura is with another pro-administration group, Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan-Democratic Party of the Philippines.

Besides Alvarez and Ventura, also vying for the gubernatorial post are low-key bets Marichelle Crespo of the Philippine Green Republican Party, and independent candidates Richard Lopez and Christopher Morales. Lopez also ran in the 2016 gubernatorial polls.

Commission on Elections data show 523,314 residents in 23 Palawan towns have registered for this year's polls. Palawan has over a million residents.

The gubernatorial bet who will win faces the responsibility of leading the Philippines' largest province, with 1,768 islands and a land area spanning 17,030.8 square kilometers or almost 4 Cebus combined. It also stretches 650 kilometers from its northern to southern tip.

The winning bet is also tasked to lead the preservation of what is considered to be the Philippines' last ecological frontier. Data from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development show that the province has 32 terrestrial and marine key biodiversity areas, cradling more than 38% of the country's total wildlife species.

Alvarez, who had lobbied for the splitting of Palawan, asserted that the province's archipelagic nature is considered a bane, not only to the delivery of basic services but also to environmental law enforcement. Dividing it into 3 would be advantageous to Palaweños, according to the governor.

"The delivery of basic health and social services will increase in speed, and leaders will have manageable areas to administer for development and progress," he was quoted as saying in a Palawan News article.

Dividing Palawan

While Alvarez may have won the sympathy of residents in far-flung areas, he has failed to convince others who believe that local officials should fix their governance strategies instead.

Ventura's group, the Save Palawan Movement (SPM), had launched the One Palawan campaign, in a last-ditch attempt to block the bill's signing into law.

The measure was authored by 3 Palawan congressmen, including reelectionist 1st District Representative Franz Alvarez.

The President signed it as Republic Act No. 11259, leaving the opposition pinning their hopes on the plebiscite set for the second Monday of May 2020.

"We prefer a change in leadership because there is a big chance that the proposed division will be stopped," SPM spokesperson Cynthia del Rosario told Rappler on Sunday, May 12.

SPM earlier argued there was "no compelling study made on the costs and benefits of a political subdivision of Palawan." It also claimed there was no extensive consultation which would have reflected public clamor against the move, an accusation denied time and again by pro-division local officials seeking reelection.

"We want a leadership that will ensure the active participation of the people in major decisions that will affect them, and a leadership that has a heart for the environment so that sustainable development will be the norm for the entire province," Del Rosario said. – Rappler.com

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It will go live as soon as precincts close at 6 pm Monday, May 13.