Western Visayas

Bishop’s last-minute opposition casts shadow over Negros Island Region revival

Erwin Delilan

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Bishop’s last-minute opposition casts shadow over Negros Island Region revival

LAST-MINUTE OPPOSITION. Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes surprises local proponents of the Negros Island Region revival by expressing his opposition to the measure on March 24, 2024.

Diocese of Dumaguete FB page

Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes says an opposition movement against the Negros Island Region revival is snowballing, and hints at a forthcoming position paper

NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – In what appears as a last-minute twist, efforts to revive the Negros Island Region (NIR) through a law faced an unexpected opposition from Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes, who called the measure passed by Congress as an “insult” to the people of Negros Oriental.

Despite political optimism, Cortes’ late opposition has injected uncertainty into the NIR’s future, sparking a debate and legal scrutiny as it approaches the final stages of becoming law.

On Sunday, March 24, Cortes said the Congress-approved NIR was an “insult to the people” of Negros Oriental, a pronouncement that rattled its local proponents. The bishop did not elaborate, and neither did he say exactly why he was opposed to the measure.

Cortes said an opposition movement against NIR is snowballing, and hinted at a forthcoming position paper. 

The House of Representatives approved House Bill No. 7355 in March 2023, while the Senate approved its version, Senate Bill No. 2507, on March 12, this year. The legislative measure, which is awaiting President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s signature or veto, aims to create a new region out of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor, including several cities.

The Human Rights Advocates in Negros (HRAN) have rallied behind Cortes, emphasizing the necessity for government officials to heed local concerns. 

HRAN criticized proponents of the NIR measure and legislators for lack of on-the-ground hearings and consultations, saying they went against democratic processes.

The assassinated Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo, who opposed the proposal, had cited language barriers as a significant challenge in reviving NIR, with Hiligaynon predominant in Negros Occidental and Cebuano in Negros Oriental.

Negros political analyst and lawyer Joemax Ortiz said the bishop’s opposition could lead to potential legal battles that could reach all the way to the Supreme Court.

Ortiz drew parallels to the nullification of a similar regional division in 1986 due to civil society activism. The NIR was also created based on an executive order by the late president Benigno Aquino III, only to be taken back by his successor, Rodrigo Duterte, due to budgetary constraints.

Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson questioned the timing of Cortes’ pronouncements, noting that those opposed to the Lower House’s and Senate bills did not make their positions known when Congress was still deliberating on the proposed measures.

Lacson and other prominent political leaders in Western Visayas, such as Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor and Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas, favor the creation of the NIR, and see it as beneficial for Negrenses.

Mayor Treñas said a Negros Island Region promises a potential for development and increased contributions to national growth. – Rappler.com

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