By Ben Rosario
Puerto Princesa City, currently the capital and seat of the provincial government of Palawan, will be severed and become “province-less” under a legislative proposal that seeks to divide one of the country’s top tourist destination into three provinces.
The proposal, initiated by all three Palawan congressmen, has drawn opposition from the Save Palawan Movement (SPM). It said that this bid on gerrymandering will render meaningless laws and policies put in place by government in order to protect the province’s biodiversity and natural resources.
The move to divide Palawan into three provinces was already passed on third and final reading at the House of Representatives and has already been calendared for second reading at the Senate.
Cynthia del Rosario, one of the outspoken convenors of SPM, chided politicians behind Palawan’s dismemberment, noting that the Lower House had surreptitiously fast-tracked approval of House Bill No. 8055.
“There was no consultation before the bill was filed, not even during the supposed Lower House deliberation,” said Del Rosario.
HB 8055 that seeks to divide Palawan into three provinces –Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur – was authored by Palawan Reps. Franz Alvarez, Frederic Abueg, and Gil Acosta.
With the exception of Puerto Princesa City, all localities in the province will belong to one of the three provinces to be created.
In the bill, Palawan’s capital is classified as a highly urbanized city but will be entitled to one congressional seat.
HB 8055 also bars Puerto Princesa residents from participating in the plebiscite that will serve as the final approval of the proposed division.
Adopted by Senate’s Committee on Local Government chaired by Senator Sonny Angara, the legislative proposal has been described as “very discriminating and grossly insensitive” to Puerto Princesa folk.
“Why should the city’s residents be excluded from deciding on such a vital governance concern when such right is clearly provided for under the Constitution and Local Government Code, and has been decided by the Supreme Court on several cases in favor of the affected citizens?” the SPM asked, in a position paper.
The group noted the absence of “expressed desire” emanating from Palaweños to split the province to address “the current development and governance challenges facing” Palawan.
“It is an agenda determined and imposed solely by the present leadership,” the SPM statement said.
According to signatories of the position paper, the decision to divide Palawan is based solely on the “simplistic assertion” that governance will progress if the province is divided into three.
“There has been no compelling study made on the costs and benefits of a political subdivision of Palawan,” the SPM pointed out.
“The proposed legislation failed to take into account the various natural resource laws and policies that affect Palawan,” the group stated.
The statement added: “The proposed measure is conducive to a regressive atmosphere for local political dynasties.”
It was noted that Rep. Alvarez is the grandson of incumbent Gov. Pepito Alvarez. He is the son former Rep. Antonio Alvarez and nephew of San Vicente Mayor Pie Alvarez.
Abueg, on the other hand, is currently a deputy speaker in the Lower House. He took over the congressional post once occupied by his father, Alfredo Abueg Jr.
Acosta, meanwhile, worked for Gov. Alvarez as his information officer. He represents the third congressional district that includes Puerto Princesa City.