By Hannah Torregoza
The Senate has approved on third and final reading the measure dividing Palawan—the country’s largest province—into three new provinces.
House Bill No. 8055, which was sponsored by Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chair of the Senate committee on local government was passed with 14 affirmative votes, one negative vote and zero abstention.
It was Sen. Risa Hontiveros who cast the negative vote on the bill, expressing her fears that a divided Palawan would strengthen China’s position in the West Philippine Sea.
The measure, Palawan will be divided into three provinces—namely, Palawan Del Norte, Palawan Oriental and Palawan Del Sur.
Under the bill, the province of Palawan del Norte will be composed of the municipalities of Coron, Culion, Busuanga, Linacapan, Taytay and El Nido.
The province of Palawan Oriental, in turn, would be comprised of the municipalities of Roxas, Araceli, Dumaran, Cuyo, Agutaya, Magsaysay, Cayancillo, and San Vicente.
On the other hand, the province of Palawan del Sur, which will be considered as the “mother province,” will be composed of the municipalities of Aborlan, Narra, Quezon, Rizal, Espanola, Brooke’s Point, Bataraza, Balacbac and Kalayaan.
Angara said the three proposed provinces would be created upon approval of the majority of the votes cast by voters in the affected areas in a plebiscite to be conducted in 2020.
According to Angara, due to the “vastness” of Palawan, an archipelago of 1,800 islands with a population of at least 1.1 million, the division of the existing province under the bill would comply with requirements for a province set forth by the Local Government Code.
He also said that the three proposed provinces will meet the land area requirement; Palawan del Norte and Palawan Oriental are expected to satisfy the population requirement imposed by law by 2020.
“If we speak of economic potential, Palawan is a powerhouse. Its local growth rate has been clocked at bristling seven percent per annum for many years now. And this was achieved with a total ban on the exploitation of natural resources over a wide swath of its land,” Angara noted.
However, Hontiveros expressed concern that if China has aggressively and arrogantly exerted its claim on the West Philippine Sea, it can now easily conquer the three provinces which are now reduced as small local government units.
“Instead of having to face a single, strong provincial government which can mobilize the entire island in its own defense, China will now have the opportunity to infiltrate and influence smaller local government units,” Hontiveros said.
“This is not your business as usual subdivision of political units but one with deep geopolitical repercussions especially since the Province of Palawan is right in the forefront of our West Philippine Sea territory,” she added.
She also lamented the lack of genuine consultation in the proposal, pointing out that the letter of Bishop Eduardo Sarabia Juanich of Taytay, Palawan and the petition by the Save Palawan Movement indicated that there were no genuine discussions made when the bill was being heard.
“For something as important as what the bill seeks to accomplish, it is my opinion that our committee did not reach out to all affected sectors, particularly the non-government organizations, the religious and the private sector. While the public hearing conducted in the Senate invited as resources persons, local government officials and employees of the province, it failed to take into account the position of the various NGOs, people’s organizations and the religious who are opposed to the subdivision of our last frontier,” Hontiveros said.
“It is my opinion that the bill has failed to take into account the various environmental and natural resources laws that have specific jurisdiction over Palawan,” she said.