Group asks Supreme Court to block law dividing Palawan

PALAWAN, Philippines – Palawan and Puerto Princesa City residents filed with the Supreme Court on Wednesday, June 26, a petition to block the law that will divide Palawan into 3 provinces.

A plebiscite on the law has been set for May 2020. 

Petitioners from the Save Palawan Movement (SPM) is seeking a writ of prohibition that would declare null and void.

“There is a high probability that the Supreme Court will grant our petition based on the issue of unconstitutionality,” SPM spokesperson Cynthia del Rosario told Rappler. 

The petition comes with an appeal for the issuance of a preliminary injunction and temporary  restraining order against the Commission on Elections, the Department of Budget and Management, the provincial government of Palawan, and the provincial treasurer. 

Last April, President Rodrigo Duterte signed RA 11259 that seeks to divide Palawan into 3 provinces, namely Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur. The  law will be decided upon by  Palawan residents in a plebiscite on the second Monday of May 2020.

In a statement, the group said RA 11259 “violated the Constitutional provisions on people’s right to vote in a plebiscite on a matter directly affecting them, on the right to participation and information as well as on the sharing of natural wealth as provided under RA 7160 or the Local Government Code.” 

SPM said Section 54 of RA 11259 “purposely disqualifies the residents of [highly urbanized] Puerto Princesa City from voting in the coming plebiscite…despite being directly affected by the division.” 

“We, Puerto Princesa residents, believe the law violates our right of suffrage. In Article 10, Section 10 of the Constitution, it clearly states that in creating provinces all the units directly affected should be included in the plebiscite,” Del Rosario said in a press conference in Manila broadcast on Facebook. 

She noted that Puerto Princesa City, alongside Aborlan town in southern Palawan, forms part of the 3rd congressional district, making Puerto Princesa residents directly affected by the division. 

“It will affect many Capitol employees who are mostly Puerto Princesa residents, because they might lose jobs once the division prospers. [With the creation of 3 capitols], some may be relocated to towns far from the city,” she added. 

Del Rosario said “the division will also hurt Puerto Princesa’s economy,” as presently it hosts the airport and seaport that serve as the tourists’ main gateways to destinations in southern and northern Palawan. 

The group argued that the Section 11 of RA 11259 “substantially alters” the shares of the local government units concerned in proceeds from natural wealth, which is provided in Section 292 of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code. 

RA 7160 states that the sharing of natural wealth is divided into 20% for the province, 45% for the municipality and 35% for the barangay. “In RA 11259, this sharing was substantially altered where the province gets the biggest share of 60%, while the shares of the municipality and barangay were substantially reduced to 24% and 16%, respectively,” SPM said.  

Petitioners further asserted that “starting from its inception until its deliberation in Congress on RA 11259, there were no public consultations or public hearings involving Palawan stakeholders.” 

They added that residents of Puerto Princesa were “not heard on a matter of extreme interest and importance to their lives before and during the deliberation of RA 11259.”

“[Besides filing a petition before the Supreme Court], we still have other legal recourse, and if the plebiscite will still happen, we can still campain against the division,” Del Rosario said. – Rappler.com