Senate of the Philippines

After Palawan plebiscite, Senate urged to ‘think twice’ before splitting provinces

Mara Cepeda
After Palawan plebiscite, Senate urged to ‘think twice’ before splitting provinces

PALAWAN PLEBISCITE. Senator Richard Gordon makes a manifestation on the Palawan plebiscite results during the session on March 15, 2021.

Screenshot from the Senate of the Philippines' YouTube account

Senator Richard Gordon, who was among the 14 senators who backed the 2018 bill dividing Palawan into 3, now says they must 'put in more mental gymnastics' before approving such measures

Senator Richard Gordon said the chamber must “think twice” before creating new provinces, after unofficial results in the Palawan plebiscite showed residents rejecting the bid to divide the province into 3. 

Gordon suggested to his colleagues on Monday, March 15, to “tarry a little and really put in more mental gymnastics” before approving bills on the creation of new provinces or districts.

Otherwise, it would be a repeat of the Palawan plebiscite, where residents are poised to officially reject Republic Act No. 11259 or the law passed by Congress that would have split the province into Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur.

“I know that this is a collegial body, we all vote on it, but as far as I’m concerned, I would certainly think twice, think 3 times before we approve [creating new] provinces and districts. I know it’s a political thing to do so, but sometimes, the challenge of statesmanship and practicality must be observed,” said Gordon.

Gordon, however, was among the 14 senators who had voted in favor of the Palawan division bill in 2018.

He said he was “surprised” that Palawan residents voted against the measure, but conceded that “perhaps there were other reasons” for their rejection. 

Gordon added that while he is not totally against the creation of new provinces, he said senators should note that such proceedings may be considered “unfair” by residents.

“We must remember that we are slicing the pie that will go to the provinces, and sometimes it will go, if they have a sparse population, it will be unfair to the heavily populated provinces,” said Gordon.

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Senator Sonny Angara, former chairperson of the Senate committee on local government that tackled the Palawan division bill, said the measure had been a “hotly debated” issue at the time.

He said he is surprised by the plebiscite results, but conceded that Congress must “respect and honor” the will of Palawan’s residents. 

“But the bottom line is, again, the people have spoken and we must respect and honor that exercise of sovereign will of the people,” said Angara.

Senator Francis Tolentino, who now chairs the local government panel, agreed that they must “respect the decision of the people of Palawan.”

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon then told senators that they do not have to lose sleep even if Palawan voted against the decision of Congress.

“We exercised our best judgment, the people did not agree with us, that’s it. That’s how the system works. I would not really, as I said, lose sleep. This is part of the system, and we should continue with the system because it’s good for our democracy,” said Drilon.

Like Gordon, Drilon had also voted in favor of dividing Palawan into 3 provinces.

Governor Jose Alvarez, who had been the prime voice in the Palawan division initiative, has already conceded loss in the plebiscite. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.