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Creating smaller Palawan provinces needed for equity in development

/ 05:00 AM September 12, 2019

This is a reaction to the article “What’s the plan for Palawan?” (9/4/19) by Eva Maggay-Inciong.

I would like to take exception  to  the claim of the writer that House Bill No. 8055 creating three new Palawan provinces was passed by the House of Representatives “in a blitzkrieg operation marked by hush and speed”  and that the Senate “nonchalantly approved” the bill which is now Republic Act No. 11259.

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Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, the bill was passed in record time, but there was no hush nor short-cutting of the legislative process. Public hearings were conducted by the committee on local governments, where stakeholders and  subject matter experts were invited as resource persons. If there was speed in its passage in the House, credit is due to Palawan Gov. Jose Chavez Alvarez’s huge political capital, and to the impeccable timing in filing the proposal. The governor worked hard in shepherding  the bill which was, incidentally, co-authored by 150 congressmen.

During plenary deliberations of the bill in the Senate, Sen. Risa Hontiveros spoke vigorously against it. That doesn’t look like a Senate that nonchalantly approved the measure.

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The writer also senses  that “issues larger and more compelling than complaints about difficulties in governance” were behind the passage of the bill.  She writes of a “powerful force in command,” which she identifies as “the controversy over the West Philippine Sea and the country’s hunger for foreign investment,” as the main driver for the approval of the measure. For the writer, the division of Palawan  “was just a  convenient side issue because of its proximity to the disputed West Philippine Sea.”

The writer got it all wrong. It is the difficulty  of running a huge province with a size three times bigger than Cebu, five times bigger than Batangas, seven times bigger than Laguna and bigger  than Calabarzon that drove Palawan leaders to restructure the administrative machinery of government into smaller, compact and more manageable territories. Previous attempts had failed, not for  want of clamor, but  for lack of unity among the leaders of the province.

The controversy over the West Philippine  Seas and foreign investments were not on the plate, because these issues are better addressed by  national  leaders. Foreign policy and diplomacy, international trade and investments are within the domain of the  national government. In the hierarchy of functions, each structure of government has its own sphere. Local government units (LGUs) do not meddle in defense and foreign policy as these are outside their core responsibilities.

Palawan is unique in having a strategic  environmental plan that is provided for under RA 7611. This law mandates the sustainable development of the province by classifying areas  into different zones for various uses; thus, we have a “no touch zone,” a buffer zone and a multiple use zone. This is Palawan’s  best safeguard against wanton development, exploitative investments and reckless businessmen—whatever their nationalities are. Needless to say, the creation of new Palawan provinces will further strengthen  the capability of the administrative machinery of the law (Palawan Council for Sustainable Development), as there are now  three LGUs supporting  its implementation on the ground. The writer’s concerns over Philippine offshore gaming operations or Pogos sprouting in Palawan’s 1,780 islands, and of miners and loggers bringing their weapons of destruction,  are, to say the least, figments  far removed from reality.

Palawan is indeed a national treasure, endowed as it is with unmatched beauty and magnificence. Thus, it has become the all-embracing mantra of our current leaders to temper Palawan’s development with sustainability, and to ensure that government is attuned to the needs of the people.  Government is best not when it governs least, but when it could provide the most basic services to its constituents—at the least cost and at the least inconvenience to them.

There should be no  more tales of Palaweños traveling for days and hours just to access the most basic of government services in Puerto Princesa, where the present Capitol is located. This is why creating smaller Palawan provinces  has become imperative to achieve equity in development, and to make government perform its core functions effectively and efficiently for the present and future generations of Palaweños.

WINSTON G. ARZAGA

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Former Member

Provincial Board of Palawan

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TAGS: Inquirer letters, Palawan provinces, Winston G. Arzaga
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