Palawan’s interests on the charter change proposals
The impending debate in the Senate on a House of Representatives charter change proposal initiated by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo raises a point of interest for Palawan and similarly situated local government units particularly because of the provisions on the territorial jurisdiction of local government’s over waters beyond their 15-kilometer limits. The GMA charter draft has taken the wind from the sail of the Puno Commission draft backed by Malacanang, which had lost momentum in the crest an inane and ignorant campaign attempted by the President’s favorite blogger Mocha Uson such that Duterte deliberately avoided even a mention of it during his State of the Nation address. The GMA proposal, on the other hand, seemed to have emerged from nowhere and has been taking intense criticisms because of its attempt to remove the vice president in the line of succession, as part of its transitory provision. This, along with its removal of term limits and the Puno draft ’s provision against political dynasties. The Puno Commission draft resolves in favor of Palawan the long-standing dispute over the Malampaya energy reserves, as it categorically states that local governments have rights to a share of proceeds from the utilization of natural resources that are found even beyond its 15-kilometer municipal waters. This wasn’t reiterated in the GMA draft. In its place, however, is a provision that curtails foreign partnerships in energy exploration and asserts Philippine sovereignty in the energy-rich West Philippine Sea. It is the Puno draft that has emboldened Palawan’s political leaders to lobby for the province’s subdivision into three separate provincial entities. They bank on a plan towards the end process to reunite as a region or federate as a state. The attendant additional cost of managing a bureaucracy bloated three times over, coupled with a significant reduction in each of the smaller provinces’ internal revenue allocation, can financially be addressed by windfall profit shares from oil and gas explorations that Malampaya continues to deny them. Palawan’s district representatives have apparently failed to ensure the Puno draft provisions on natural wealth sharing was also reflected in the GMA charter change that is now pending in the Senate. By hindsight, however, it is a tall order considering that it was Arroyo when she was president, who asserted that Palawan has no legal or administrative jurisdiction over Malampaya. Constitutional analysts have pointed to the more remarkable provisions in the GMA draft, particularly its more realistic approach to federalism, the main motivation for the charter change initiative of the Duterte administration. The GMA draft also attracts bigger debates on its provisions on the approach to federalism, martial law and human rights. Expect local governments that are hosting energy exploration ventures including Palawan to assert the Puno provisions on natural wealth sharing and side with the Arroyo draft on matters related to federalism shift.