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‘Why cut up Palawan?’ Why not?

05:05 AM November 27, 2018

The Inquirer’s Nov. 23, 2018, editorial is a one-sided commentary that merely echoes the line of a group of netizens belatedly opposing the creation of three new Palawan provinces. The editorial also gives readers the erroneous impression that the idea of dividing Palawan was broached only in 2007 by then Vice Gov. David Ponce de Leon.

If truth be told, there was already a clamor for the division of Palawan as early as the ’60s, particularly during the incumbency of then Rep. Monching Mitra. In the early ’90s, during my first term as a member of the provincial board, I already authored a resolution calling for the division of Palawan into four provinces. Former minister (secretary) of natural resources and Palawan assemblyman Teddy Peña was an ardent supporter of the measure. Early on, he thought of a Palawan region composed of the four provinces and of Puerto Princesa City. It is unfortunate that none of these proposals ever passed beyond the House committee on local governments.

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Not wanting to suffer a similar fate, Palawan Gov. Jose Ch. Alvarez had to make sure that the new initiative gets the support of the leadership in both chambers of Congress before filing the bill in the Lower House.

In all these efforts to divide Palawan, the overriding reason is the huge size of the province, which makes effective governance a nightmare. As noted by Sen. Sonny Angara and quoted in your editorial, Palawan can fit in five Batangas provinces, and to add, three Cebu provinces as well.

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The province has 12 island municipalities, with three of these nearer to Antique and Iloilo, and one nearer to Tawi-Tawi and Sabah, than to Puerto Princesa. Palawan is indeed one long heterogenous province, with some of its islands having distinct
local dialects and unique cultures. Even the Catholic Church early on recognized the immensity of the province by dividing what was then a single apostolic vicariate into two, one for the north and another for Puerto Princesa and for southern towns.

A lamentable content of the editorial is its sweeping generalization that the division is all about political opportunism, with the new provinces as fiefdoms to serve the interests of the proponents. It is an unfair statement hinged on hollow, and even malicious, assumptions. Instead of political opportunism, think of opportunities that will open to thousands of Palaweño professionals who could occupy various positions in the bureaucracy of the new provinces, as well as in the national and regional offices that will open in the capital towns. Think also of the opportunities for a new generation of leaders who could run for various elective positions.

And with a provincial government focused on smaller and compact territories, government services could be delivered effectively and efficiently. Travel will also be easier for residents going to government offices, now within their reach.

It is also unfortunate that the editorial accepted hook, line and sinker Sen. Risa Hontiveros’ unexamined assertion that the division “has deep geopolitical repercussions” and that “China will now have the opportunity to infiltrate and influence smaller government units, instead of having to face a single, strong provincial government which can mobilize the entire island for its defense.”

Since when has Senator Hontiveros become an expert in geopolitics as to speak with near-certainty that a divided Palawan will invite Chinese infiltration and invasion?

Her statement is a very serious matter which should have alarmed the entire Senate when she brought this up during the vote on the proposal. Fortunately, this was not taken seriously by her Senate colleagues; otherwise, it could have derailed the passing of the measure.

But even more deplorable is the use of the Chinese bogey by a certain Anders Corr who asserted that smaller Palawan LGUs would be “vulnerable to influence, infiltration and even takeover by a China that is increasingly made to feel welcome in Manila.”

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It would be interesting to know who sought the services of Corr, and for whom he dished out his opinion, supposedly as an international risk analyst. Sad to say, his analysis is full of non sequiturs that assume that we have an inept national government that will just allow its territory to be gobbled up by China without so much as a whimper.

Corr has also drawn a scenario where the Chinese will bribe and play one LGU against another to obtain fishing and mining rights. This is both wild and irresponsible, as it casts aspersions on the integrity of both Chinese and Palawan leaders. This only exposes Corr’s paucity of knowledge on the workings of LGUs, the role of the national government in foreign relations, and the intricacies of Palawan politics.

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Winston G. Arzaga is a member of the provincial board of Palawan, a former vice governor and executive director of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, Palawan division, Winston G. Arzaga
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