No to splitting Palawan into three provinces; strengthen LGUs instead
On March 13, a plebiscite will be held in Palawan to decide whether it will be split into three provinces: Palawan del Norte (Northern Palawan), Palawan Oriental (Central Palawan), and Palawan del Sur (Southern Palawan).
Republic Act No. 11259 was signed into law by President Duterte on April 5, 2019 to provide for the holding of such plebiscite.
According to local activists and NGOs supporting the Save Palawan Movement (SPM), the division of Palawan would not only open the island’s extensive natural resources to potential mismanagement, but would also allow extractive and destructive industries, such as large-scale mining and plantations, to take root and destroy even further the island’s rich ecosystem.
Palawan, also known as the Philippines’ “last frontier,” is well known for having some of the richest biodiversity in Southeast Asia. For this reason, the entire island was declared by Unesco as a “Man and Biosphere Reserve.” The island is home to some of the oldest trees in the southern hemisphere, more than 200 endemic species and more than 100 endangered species, according to the IUCN Red List. Palawan is also home to the indigenous Tagbanua, Pala’wan, and Batak peoples. In fact, the island is sometimes referred to as “the cradle of Philippine civilization” as evidenced by significant archaeological discoveries made there.
Jose Alvarez, the governor of Palawan, known for his aggressive approach toward intensive use of natural resources, claims that dividing Palawan into three provinces would speed up the delivery of basic services to residents and further boost the provincial economy.
But SPM and other NGOs such as the Coalition Against Land Grabbing firmly believe that the planned division of Palawan is totally an unnecessary measure and a major step back from the real development needs of the province and its communities. The NGOs in Palawan have no doubt that RA 11259 is the product of a strong political lobby staged by the provincial government and its allies in Congress and the executive branch. SPM believes that the measure contradicts many important provisions of the Constitution pertaining to public participation and consultations, the empowerment of local government units for good governance, and the principle of sharing of proceeds from the national wealth. The planned division is not a development agenda as its proponents want the public to believe, but is instead a direct attempt at gerrymandering.
SPM and those opposing the splitting of Palawan believe that this:
1) is not the appropriate answer to the existing issues of weak governance, corruption, and natural resource use in the province, and that this is mainly motivated by partisan political concerns;
2) will only aggravate the threats and challenges already facing the environment and further expose the vulnerability of poor communities to the harsh impacts of environmental destruction and climate change;
3) will entail huge costs in creating three provinces as well as holding a plebiscite. At the end of the day, taxpayers would be the primary bearers of such costs.
Palaweños never asked for their province to be split. Rather than division, SPM and supporting NGOs are asking the government to focus instead on empowering the local government to strongly implement wildlife laws, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (RA 8371) for indigenous peoples’ ancestral land recognition and demarcation, and a sustainable management of natural resources. Rather than splitting the province into three, the local government should be strengthened down to the municipal and barangay levels.
Coalition Against Land Grabbing (Philippines)
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