Overheard in a Political Science class – “the difference between a statesman and a politician lies in the fact that a statesman thinks and works for the next generation, while a politician thinks and works for the next election.”
Overheard, too, in a criminal law class – “the crime in the Revised Penal Code which bears the heaviest penalty is neither murder nor treason but bigamy – because the accused has two mothers-in-law”.
The Creation of the Municipality of Culion
February 19 is a red-letter day for what before was the Culion Leper Colony, now Palawan’s 22nd municipality. On that date and month in 1992, the life-long aspiration of the people there to have their own municipality was realized when President Cory signed Republic Act No. 7193 creating the Municipality of Culion. I remember being in Culion then for my district visitation as a congressman. Announcing this in a town-plaza gathering that day, the meeting instantly erupted into a wild celebration. For this milestone of an event for Culion and as the main author of R.A. 7193, I acknowledge with profound gratitude the great help of my co-author, Speaker Monching Mitra, Pres. Cory, the Culion community leaders led by Laloy Guia (its first mayor), the late fiscal Berting Reyes, then Board Member Joel Reyes, Dr. Paul Evangelista and many others.
For many years before it became a municipality, Culion was an island so near yet so far. Blame this on the dreaded disease’ age-old stigma. The old-world beauty of the place and its gentle people notwithstanding, a trip to Culion at that time was a quick stay of one day at the most. Now, Culion is part of Palawan’s social, political and economic mainstream and an attractive tourist town. Places to visit are the Immaculate Concepcion Church, the leprosarium’s several American-made buildings, and the Culion Museum containing priceless documents (such as lists of pre-war patients, old medical equipment (microscopes, etc), telephones, typewriters, and many others. I take pride in the fact that I was the one who suggested, sometime in the late 1980’s, to Dr. Paul Evangelista then the Chief of the Culion Sanitarium to establish the museum. The revered Fr. Javier Olazabal, Culion’s parish priest for several decades, gave me in 1989 his painting of the view of the Culion town from his convent, built on high ground. (Years later, visitors from Malta where Fr. Ola came from, sought me out to ask about that painting whether I might want to donate or sell it to them. I gave them a copy of the painting.) To show their love and respect to Fr. Ola, the town officials named their beautiful boulevard by the sea as the Olazabal Boulevard. Fr. Ola’s lifetime in Culion finds parallelism to the famous Belgian priest of old, Fr. Damien who served for his lifetime the lepers in Molokai, Hawaii and as the story goes one day he gathered all the lepers and greeted them saying, “My brothers and sisters, I am now a leper like you.” Fr. Ola did not contract leprosy but like Fr. Damien, he is a candidate a beatification, so I was told.
The Division of Palawan
In 2007, I spearheaded, as Vice Governor of Palawan, the campaign for Palawan’s division into 3 provinces and its creation as a Palawan region with Puerto Princesa City as its regional center. It would then be known as the Palawan Environmental Region with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) as its core administrative agency. The 3 provinces would be: Northern Palawan (Coron, Busuanga, Culion and Linapacan along with Cuyo, Agutaya and Magsaysay), Central Palawan (Roxas, Taytay, San Vicente, El Nido, Dumaran, Araceli and Cagayancillo) and Southern Palawan (Aborlan, Narra, Quezon, Rizal, Española, Brooke’s Point, Bataraza and Balabac). This proposal was supported by the provincial leadership headed by then Gov. Joel Reyes and the municipalities in the province and was filed in the House of Representatives by then Congressmen Baham Mitra and Tony Alvarez. Unfortunately, time ran out on the proposal.
I learned from my son, Board Member Bon Ponce de Leon, that at present, the Provincial Board had revived the proposal, though with certain modifications, with the full backing of Gov. Jose Chavez Alvarez. The proposal is now contained in a bill filed in the House of Representatives. Board Member Winston Arzaga in his last week’s Restless Wind column (in Palawan News) wrote that with Gov. Alvarez, the entire board paid their call to both Senate President Pimentel and House Speaker Alvarez seeking their support for the early enactment into law of Palawan’s division into 3 provinces.
There are criticisms focused on the alleged political basis of this proposal- that it is only to create more positions for supposed political dynasties. Of course these critics are perfectly within their rights to claim this: however, Palawenos should not be blind to the advantages of a more effective area-management system, not to speak yet of the benefits of a Palawan region or Palawan federal state in the event the country goes federal, which can never be achieved with a single Palawan province. In fact, as early as the Spanish era in the country, we are told that there was already the Calamianes province and mainland Palawan province with Taytay as its capital. Besides, political elites are known, not for dispersing power by reducing their areas of governance but for consolidating as much power over much bigger areas.