What language barrier?
Business leaders and politicians in the two provinces of Negros island are scratching their heads over Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo’s reason for opposing the creation of the Negros Island Region.
Degamo stunned participants at the 4th Regional Development Council-Central Visayas (RDC-7) full council meeting in Cebu City on Tuesday, December 6, with his sudden declaration of opposition to the Negros Island Region (NIR) measures now chugging along in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Edward Du, the head of the Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who was at the meeting, said they were all surprised.
“We could not react because it was so sudden and there were many items being discussed,” Du told Rappler in a phone interview on Thursday night, December 8.
“He said it was the language barrier,” Du recalled.
“That surprised me because we already had an experiment that worked well for two years after president [Benigno] Aquino [III] signed the EO (executive order) in 2015,” the business leader said.
“Negros Occidental Governor Bong (Eugenio Jose) Lacson comes from San Carlos and that’s almost 100% Visayan speakers, and the former governor Freddie Marañon, from Sagay, also spoke fluent Visayan,” Du pointed out.
“Then here, in Oriental, one half of Canlaon City and Basay residents are Ilonggo speakers. In fact, I learned Ilonggo and practised with Gov Freddie, who would then reply in Visayan. It would actually benefit the people of Negros Island to be fluent in two languages, outside of Filipino and English,” he added.
While the Visayas comprises several regions with different languages, the word Visayan is often used to describe the language of Cebu, the main province in Central Visayas.
Most of Negros Occidental, except for the far northern towns, speaks Hiligaynon, a language shared with most of Western Visayas. However, most residents of Negros, the country’s fourth largest island, are able to understand both languages.
Ball in Congress
Lacson, sounding bemused, said he thought Degamo was on board. He added that he would reach out to his counterpart.
“Well, that’s not good news, but we’ll see. We already have senators who pushed for NIR. We will continue to support that,” the Negros Occidental governor said on Wednesday, December 7.
Negros Oriental 3rd District Representative Arnie Teves shrugged off Degamo’s remarks.
“The NIR will be crafted by a law,” Teves pointed out. Since Degamo is not a lawmaker, whatever he says will have no bearing, he added.
Teves, and Negros Oriental legislators, 1st district Representative Jocelyn Sy Limkaichong, and 2nd district Representative Manuel Sagarbarria are co-authors of House Bill No. 1446, originally filed by Negros Occidental 3rd district Representative Kiko Benitez, which includes the small island-province of Siquijor in the NIR.
Limkaichong said Degamo is in the minority as her constituents have consistently raised a “strong clamor” for the NIR.
Du also told Rappler that an “overwhelming number of Negros Oriental residents back the NIR.”
Representative Thirdy Marañon of Negros Occidental’s 2nd district filed House Bill 330 in July. Representative Juliet Marie Ferrer filed HB 119. Aside from the Negros Oriental legislators, the following also backs HB 1446: Abang Lingkod Representative Joseph Stephen Paduano, 1st District Representative Gerardo Valmayor Jr., 6th District Representative Mercedes Alvarez, and Bacolod Lone District Representative Greg Gasataya.
In the Senate, the committee on local governments, chaired by Senator JV Ejercito, approved on Monday, December 5, five bills proposing the NIR.
Ejercito authored SB 1236; Senate President Migs Zubiri, SB 89; Senator Win Gatchalian, SB 812; Senator Bong Revilla, SB 1422; and Senator Lito Lapid, SB 1469.
Du told Rappler that Degamo’s opposition was not that surprising as he had earlier opposed the first NIR but had settled down when Aquino issued the EO.
“I think it also helped that Gov Freddie reached out in Visayan, and I am sure Gov Bong will do the same,” the businessman said.
EO 183 carved out Negros Occidental from Western Visayas (Region VI), and Negros Oriental from Central Visayas (Region VII), creating one region.
In August 2017, Duterte dissolved the NIR with EO 38, claiming there was not enough funding and his administration had different priorities.
Many political figures in Negros Occidental, however, felt that Duterte was hitting back because of the low votes he got in the province.
In contrast, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who also lost in the province, has been supportive of the NIR.
While Marcos did not follow through on his early offer of an EO, legislators at the Senate and the House of Representatives are pushing the measure.
Marcos also said during the 2022 elections campaign that a law would provide a more stable platform for economic development than an EO.
Sources said Degamo had mentioned not being consulted.
Du, however, noted that when hearings and consultations started in July, it was Henry Teves, the congressman’s brother, who was sitting as Negros Oriental governor.
The Commission on Elections nullified Teves’ victory, declaring Degamo as the true winner of the 2022 election only on October 3. The Comelec made its decision after transferring to the then-incumbent governor the votes of a nuisance candidate who used the same surname.
“I am sure, they will all reach out to him. We’re all in this together,” the businessman said.