Negros Island Region

Negros Island Region reborn: The long road to new beginnings

Erwin Delilan

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Negros Island Region reborn: The long road to new beginnings

PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr signs the law the creates the Negros Island Region.

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(1st UPDATE) The road ahead is paved with both challenges and opportunities for the Negros Island Region. For those who advocated its creation, the journey continues toward realizing the new region's full potential.

BACOLOD, Philippines – The journey to create and put the Negros Island Region (NIR) on the country’s administrative map was marked by decades of struggle, determination, perseverance, and even political maneuvering, culminating in a historic legislative victory that promises to reshape the new region’s future.

The idea of NIR first took root in the mid-1980s, championed by former Negros Occidental governor Daniel Lacson and the late Negros Oriental governor Emilio Macias II. To them, it was not right that Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental were united geographically but separated only by administrative boundaries.

Former Negros Occidental governor Rafael Coscolluela, a key figure in NIR’s inception, recalled the early challenges. 

People, Person, Adult
PILLARS. An old photo of three former Negros Occidental governors who contributed in the advocacy for the creation of the Negros Island Region. From left: the late Alfredo Marañon Jr., Rafael Coscolluela, and Daniel Lacson. courtesy of Rafael Coscolluela

“The concept was initially met with skepticism and even resentment,” Coscolluela recounted.

He recalled that during an initial joint meeting of stakeholders from the two provinces initiated by Lacson and Macias in Dumaguete City, tensions ran high as attendees from Negros Oriental voiced concerns about potential disadvantages under a unified region.

Both are on Negros Island, but they belonged to different regions. Until Thursday, June 13, Negros Occidental was part of the Western Visayas region while Negros Oriental was under Central Visayas.

‘Bully’

At that time, Coscolluela said, they were stunned by the intensity of resentment expressed by some of their counterparts from Negros Oriental who worried about Negros Occidental’s “bullying.”

The officials from Negros Oriental felt that their province would be disadvantaged in the distribution of economic resources under the then proposed region because Negros Occidental already had Bacolod and more component cities than Negros Oriental.

Coscolluela said it was former Negros Oriental 3rd District representative Garry Teves who pacified the bickering officials and emphasized the need for them to unite. After persistent dialogues, the momentum for the NIR’s creation snowballed as local political figures like Teves and successive governors became its staunch advocates. 

“We started with practical steps,” said Coscolluela, citing cooperation and joint initiatives such as hospital and road construction projects that benefited both provinces.

When Coscolluela became Negros Occidental’s governor, he and Macias continued to push for the NIR’s creation, and then-president Fidel Ramos approved the plan in principle on the condition that officials of the two provinces would demonstrate that they can cooperate.

“We started by establishing two hospitals, Inapoy District Hospital (IDH) and Luz Sikatuna District Hospital (LSDH), along with other inter-provincial road networks,” Coscolluela said.

IDH was located between Kabankalan City in Negros Occidental and Mabinay in Negros Oriental, while LSDH was built along the boundaries of the two provinces.

Obstacles and setbacks

Coscolluela said many obstacles and unforeseen events hindered the plan. 

His successor, the late governor Joseph Marañon, who also advocated for the NIR’s creation, died on March 13, 2008, leaving his work for the NIR unfinished.

Marañon’s brother, Alfredo Jr., succeeded the late governor and also advocated for the creation of the new region. 

On May 29, 2015, then-president Benigno Simeon Aquino III established the NIR through an executive order, which Coscolluela credited to former interior and local government secretary Mar Roxas.

Despite the initial progress, setbacks plagued the NIR advocacy. The abrupt abolition of the two-year-old region in 2017 due to funding issues under the Duterte administration was a major blow, leaving proponents disheartened but undeterred.

“It was a setback, but not the end,” recalled Negros Occidental Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer, reflecting on the resilience of NIR advocates who continued to lobby for its revival. 

Their efforts bore fruit with the passage of House Bill 7355 and Senate Bill 2505, which President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed into law on Thursday afternoon. The law included the island of Siquijor, a small province carved out of Central Visayas, as part of the new region.

New chapter

For many, the revival of NIR represents more than just administrative restructuring. 

“It’s a sweet vindication of our efforts,” said Negros Occidental 2nd District Representative Alfredo Marañon III.

Officials in the new region said the NIR’s rebirth is poised to enhance regional governance, streamline bureaucratic processes, and stimulate economic growth. 

Officials are anticipating greater ease of doing business and increased investor confidence as a result of the new region’s creation, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri told Rappler on Thursday.

Beyond economic benefits, “it will bring public services closer to the people,” said Negros Oriental 1st District Representative Jocelyn Sy-Limkaichong.

Bacolod Representative Greg Gasataya said the NIR creation reflects a broader vision for inclusive and sustainable development. “Integrated planning and consolidated efforts will drive progress across the region,” he said.

Looking ahead, local officials envision a future where the NIR catalyzes regional prosperity and unity. 

“It’s a new chapter for Negros,” according to Bacolod Mayor Alfredo Benitez.

The road ahead is paved with both challenges and opportunities for the NIR. For those who advocated its creation like Coscolluela, the journey continues toward realizing NIR’s full potential. 

“It’s long overdue. It’s simple logic: Let’s put the twin provinces on one island into a single region. It’s that simple,” Coscolluela said. – Rappler.com

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