Negrenses weigh in on possible dissolution of Negros Island Region

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The possible dissolution of the Negros Island Region (NIR) drew negative reactions from some Negrenses, who believe it would hurt the development of the two Negros provinces – Occidental and Oriental.

The issue stemmed from the statement of Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Lloyd Dino, who told reporters in Cebu on Saturday, October 8, that the new region could be abolished because of budget constraints.

The NIR had been created through an executive order signed by former president Benigno Aquino III on May 29, 2015. It separated Negros Occidental from Western Visayas or Region VI, and Negros Oriental from Central Visayas or Region VII.

The creation of the NIR was endorsed by then-interior secretary Manuel Roxas II, who ran for president in the May 2016 elections. Negros Occidental is a known bailiwick of Roxas, as his mother Judy Araneta-Roxas hails from Bago City.

The Duterte administration's reported plan to dissolve the NIR was met with negative reactions online.

Manila-based Negrense Mark Will Magallanes said: "As a Negrense, I was raised to the fact that Negros Island Region is a necessary measure in order to achieve full economic development in the island. I came to appreciate its merits more when I studied and worked in Manila. I was one of the offshore Negrenses who campaigned for its creation."

He added: "We are horrified and angry at its possible dissolution. It's our life and future, especially for us who look forward to settling back home in an opportune time."

Bacolod doctor Dominic Alojado said he is not favor of the NIR's dissolution since the creation of the region brought benefits.

"Since the move is into a federal form, Negros Island's existence is the 'trial' or the 'experimental petri dish' of future federal states of the Philippines as to how it would exist separate from a central administrative government," he said.

"Whatever NIR will become or achieve would be a benchmark of the other planned federal regions or states. Negros has long been [on] 'runner-up' priority from its regional centers that are geographically separate from them, at the mercy of weather and sea condition."

Alojado also pointed out that "mobility and logistics is delayed and difficult in time of emergency in either side of Negros, like the 2012 Tayasan earthquake, where Negros Occidental was quick to send its heavy equipment to the stricken parts of Oriental, but delays happened due to the need for Negros Oriental to coordinate with its regional center in Cebu."

Alvin Ballares of Bacolod City said he would be disappointed should the move push through because "hard work and sacrifices have been made for the creation of NIR."

"I was very happy when former president Aquino signed the executive order for NIR. Such a waste of money and effort if NIR will be dissolved," he added.

Christopher Riego of Dumaguete City expressed dismay as the NIR "was supposedly created to address the concerns that Metro Cebu and Iloilo didn't allocate enough funds to progress the provincial cities (in Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental)."

He further said that "the problem might not seem big to the whole nation, but there is an impact to us here in the province who are tired of having to travel hours to get to region offices."

In a statement released by Dino on Sunday, October 9, he said the fate of the NIR is still being discussed.

The region was not included in the proposed 2017 national budget despite appeals by local officials. The funding for the NIR will still be sourced from the previous regions that Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental belonged to.

"In my conversation with (House) Speaker (Pantaleon) Alvarez he said there is no budget for NIR in the 2017 GAA (General Appropriations Act) and even in the 2016 budget," Dino said.

"It looks like NIR will be superseded by federalism. The likelihood of it being abolished is there," he added.

Alvarez, in a chance interview on September 30 when he administered the mass oath-taking of Negros Occidental officials who switched to the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), said that the NIR must adopt poorer provinces when it becomes a federal state.

"When we divide the (regions into) different states, we will determine the viability of one region, if it will survive or not," he said.

"It would be best for NIR to adopt poor provinces, like Siquijor and Samar, so these poor provinces will also develop."

Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr, who is in favor of shifting to a federal form of government, said he is okay with the NIR adopting poorer provinces when it becomes a federal state, as long as Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental would not be separated. – Rappler.com