PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines – A civic group wants to block the passage of a proposed bill dividing Palawan into 3 provinces, which is up for second reading at the Senate next week.
Campaigner Cynthia Del Rosario of the Save Palawan Movement claimed that the “railroaded” House Bill 8055, which the House of Representatives approved in August, reached the Senate “without undergoing prior public consultation.”
“Such consultation will show that there was no true clamor from the people; rather, it was a plan conceived by a handful of local politicians,” Del Rosario told Rappler on Tuesday, November 6.
She was referring to Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez, the provincial board members, and the 3 Palawan congressmen who have pushed for the proposal.
In supporting the proposed measure, Alvarez had said that dividing Palawan into 3 provinces would speed up the delivery of basic services to residents and further boost the provincial economy.
Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, chairman of the Senate committee on local government, endorsed the bill. He announced this in a Facebook post that drew mixed reactions, mostly negative ones from Palawan residents who claimed they were “blindsided” by the speedy progress of the proposed measure in Congress.
Angara had also stressed in his post that the proposal was “not motivated by partisan political concerns, nor a gerrymandering exercise,” but was fitting since Palawan is the biggest province in the Philippines in terms of area.
The bill is slated for second reading at the Senate when it resumes session next week.
'One Palawan' campaign
In a bid to delay or even stop the bill’s approval, the Save Palawan Movement recently launched the “One Palawan” campaign, gathering signatures against the proposed measure.
“The division of Palawan is not the appropriate answer to the existing weak governance, corruption, and natural resource use issues in the province,” Del Rosario said.
She pointed out that the taxpayers would bear the cost of creating these provinces.
“The huge costs entailed in creating provinces, as well as holding a plebiscite, will be shouldered by taxpayers’ money. This is unnecessary because the Palaweños did not ask for the division in the first place,” Del Rosario added.
Del Rosario, a Puerto Princesa resident, also questioned a provision in the bill stripping city residents of their right to vote in a plebiscite that would give them the chance to accept or reject the proposal.
“Puerto Princesans were not consulted nor included in a scheduled plebiscite on the bill. They will wake up one day without a province and they did not know how it happened,” she added.
While declared a highly urbanized city, the campaigner said vote-rich Puerto Princesa is still defined as “a political unit that will be ‘directly affected’” by the effects of division.
The definition, Del Rosario mentioned, is stated in the “law (1987 Constitution and the Local Government Code) and jurisprudence (Supreme Court decision on Umali v. Comelec case, among others).” Based on this, she said, “the city residents should be included in the plebiscite.”
The proposed names of the 3 provinces are Palawan del Norte (Northern Palawan), Palawan Oriental (Central Palawan), and Palawan del Sur (Southern Palawan), with Taytay, Roxas, and Brooke's Point as their capitals, respectively.
Here are the proposed areas under each province:
Palawan del Norte
Palawan del Sur