The social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has expressed concern over the possible effects of the division of Palawan into three separate provinces to its biodiversity and indigenous peoples’ communities.
In a statement dated February 5, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, vice chair of the CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace, said they are one with the call of the civil society organizations, the local Catholic Churches in Taytay and Puerto Princesa, and the people of Palawan to “re-examine the scientific, cultural and moral foundations of the law, above all economic and political gains of the proponents and their business allies – so that what happened at least 20 years ago when we opened up Palawan forests to extractive industries, will not happen again in the globally-significant island ecosystem.”
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is set to conduct a plebiscite on March 13, 2021 for the ratification of Republic Act No. 11259, which divides Palawan into Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur.
Father Rey Aguanta, apostolic administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay, believes the separation will only be putting Palaweños, especially the indigenous communities in a losing end, “as the law was mostly due to personal and vested political interests, and not to pave the way for genuine human development.”
“Spending millions of pesos for the election is not cost-efficient when the province still needs to provide for the coronavirua disease (COVID-19) vaccines and other basic social services for its constituents.”
For his part, Fr. Antonio E. Labiao, Nassa/Caritas Philippines executive secretary, said while they question the true intent of the law, they respect the political process.
However, he urged the government, especially the Inter Agency Task Force, Comelec, the police and the military, the present political leaders in Palawan, to “make all necessary measures possible so voters are able to exercise their constitutional right to suffrage despite the limitations brought about by COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We urge the government to ensure integrity, fairness, transparency, utmost observance of health protocols in the conduct of the plebiscite, and that electoral violations will be avoided,” Labiao said.
Bishop Socrates Mesiona of the Apostolic Vicariate of Palawan also called for a “fair presentation of the issues concerning the plebiscite from the media and the government, so the public will be able to have informed and principled decision on the matter.”
Known as the last ecological frontier of the Philippines, Palawan is a first-class province having stable annual revenues from tourism, rich marine, and forest resources, and mineral reserves.