Plan to di­vide Palawan needs a gen­uine de­bate

Palawan News - - EDITORIAL -

The Se­nate is re­port­edly set to tackle the pro­posal that em­anated from the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives break­ing up Palawan into three smaller prov­inces. Gov­er­nor Jose Ch. Al­varez said this week he will make sure to be present in the up­per cham­ber’s de­lib­er­a­tions to lobby its pas­sage.

If the mea­sure is ap­proved by both the House and the Se­nate, and fine-tuned by the bi­cam­eral con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, it will be up to Pres­i­dent Duterte to sign it into law. It pro­vides for a ref­er­en­dum among the cit­i­zens of Palawan to ap­prove or dis­ap­prove the mea­sure.

The bill aims to cre­ate three new prov­inces from to­day’s sin­gu­lar Palawan pro­vin­cial en­tity, with the adm­nis­tra­tive bound­aries drawn across the north, cen­tral and south Palawan. The City of Puerto Princesa is sup­posed to re­main an ad­min­is­tra­tively in­de­pen­dent lo­cal govern­ment unit, clas­si­fied as a highly ur­ban­ized city.

This ini­tia­tive was sin­gu­larly driven by the pro­vin­cial govern­ment, an agenda pushed per­son­ally by Gov­er­nor Jose Al­varez, on the premise that Palawan has grown to be dif­fi­cult to ad­min­is­ter and chal­leng­ing to de­velop. Un­for­tu­nately how­ever, there has been lit­tle to no pub­lic de­bate on the is­sue, save for ran­dom dis­cus­sions it had gen­er­ated in so­cial me­dia and sev­eral news pla�orms like Palawan News.

When the idea was first brought up to the pub­lic, Capi­tol of­fi­cials promised to con­duct in­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tions in the com­mu­ni­ties about the pro­posal. This seemed not to have hap­pened and if there were such con­sul­ta­tions, there was no con­sol­i­dated re­port that came out of it that gauged the ma­jor­ity sen­ti­ment and doc­u­mented the is­sues raised on the ground.

What hap­pened in­stead was grand lobby for the pas­sage of the bill. It went through the pro­vin­cial board with no gen­uine pub­lic de­bate. There were re­ported one-on-one closed door con­sul­ta­tions held with the City govern­ment lead­er­ship to so­licit their par­tic­i­pa­tion. It was fait ac­com­pli lead­ing to the fil­ing of the for­mal bill in Congress, jointly au­thored by Palawan’s three rep­re­sen­ta­tives. It breezed through the House with­out much fan­fare, to the de­light of lo­cal of­fi­cials.

If the bill is signed into law by Pres­i­dent Duterte, a ref­er­en­dum should be held some­time late next year. Judg­ing from the lob­by­ing ef­forts so far un­der­taken by the pro­vin­cial lead­er­ship, it is ex­pected to push harder for its rat­i­fi­ca­tion dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum.

The onus now is on civil so­ci­ety to ex­ert an ef­fort to fos­ter an in­tel­li­gent de­bate on the is­sue at hand, and help the pop­u­la­tion make an in­formed de­ci­sion when they come to the polls. There re­mains many unaswered ques­tions about this pro­posal, it’s real in­ten­tions and its over­all merit. That these ques­tions have not been ad­e­quately an­swered is re­flected in the nu­mer­ous so­cial me­dia posts crit­i­ciz­ing the ini­tia­tive.

Those di­rectly in­volved in the lobby ef­fort for the pas­sage of this law have opted for the fast track in­stead of an open and gen­uine pub­lic de­bate. It is up to the civil so­ci­ety - the pri­vate sec­tor, the academe, the youth, the NGOs - to fill in the gap be­fore its too late.

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