Palawan in a Duterte Presidency

Hard decisions await presumptive President Rodrigo if he is to fulfill several campaign promises he made in Palawan. Starting this week, we will take a look in each of these issues and understand the multi-layered dynamics blanketing them and perhaps help us Palawenos temper our expectations, if any.

First is Palawan’s share of the Malampaya gas royalty. In the twin instances that the incoming President addressed this matter, one during his “road tour” prior to his filing of candidacy and another during his campaign rally in Puerto Princesa City, he made a categorical statement to recognize Palawan’s share and release the money to the province. The amount involved range from a low of P40 to a high of P70, in billions. The figure is presumably a representation
of the 40% share of Palawan from the Malampaya project as provided for in the Local Government Code.

The legal issue concerning Palawan’s share is still pending in the Supreme Court. The release of the tribunal’s decision as to whether the Malampaya gas belongs to Palawan or is outside of the province’s administrative jurisdiction – is beyond the ambit of the incoming president’s executive powers, unless of course he declares martial law and abrogate all decision-making prerogatives to  himself.

Pending the SC ruling however, the Duterte administration may revisit the same options considered by the outgoing Aquino administration on how Palawan may immediately benefit from Malampaya. JCA administration had tried to forge a deal with the Aquino government to monetize its prospective share by incurring loans that will be guaranteed by the national government.

That proposal did not break through even if President Aquino agreed to it in principle, according to Malacanang and provincial sources. In principle, Duterte can revisit this option and issue an executive order to give way to this borrowing scheme. This, however, has to be studied carefully because of its fiscal implications on the national
government’s budget and paying capacity. In light of the Malampaya scam and controversies, unanswered questions have evolved concerning the whereabouts of the Malampaya share and whether there is still money somewhere in the government’s ledgers that it can indeed make a guarantee for the windfall loans that Palawan intends to incur.

Following the Napoles scandal and the DAP controversy, and Palawan’s own misuse of the funds in the past, Duterte will want to know first if there’s still money for Palawan to make such concession. A separate issue pertains to the safeguards needed to be put in place if Malacanang wants to avoid the abuse the funds by two administrations
that had preceded the incumbent administration of re-elected governor Jose Alvarez.

There is one aspect to think about, which is the political side of things. Palawan did not vote Duterte for president. The province voted for Mar Roxas, with the governor himself as his chief local campaigner. With Gov. JCA delivering for Roxas and the LP machinery, Duterte landed a mere third placer next to Grace Poe in the Palawan tally. If Duterte will behave like a chid with a lollipop, he may back out from his campaign promise and invoke that the people of Palawan and its government did not deliver on their side of the bargain.

In political circles hereabouts, everyone says that Governor Alvarez is a Duterte relative via the route of his marriage to a Roa, a clan where Duterte belongs. How this familial ties will play out is a function of elitist politics that Duterte himself says he abhors.

Still another option is for Malacanang and the provincial administration is to enter into a similar “interim” agreement that the Macapagal administration did when it released some P4 B to Palawan in 2008. It was an arrangement that civil society groups like the Kilusan Love Malampaya (KLM) had vigorously opposed, a struggle that indubitably led to the murder of Gerry Ortega, who was credited to have exposed the anomalies surrounding its abuse by local officials then. For the KLM, which had campaigned for Duterte on his promise of Malampaya release, allowing a similar arrangement this time will equate to a compromise of its previously stated position.

Finally with so many campaign promises Duterte has to deal with during his first six months in office, it will be most convenient for the incoming administration to  simply bundle this promise along with its vow to institute a shift to a parliamentary form of government. Once Palawan becomes a federated entity, theoretically it can have all the
Malampaya funds to itself. Easier said than done for Palawan but for Duterte, the commitment is therefore dealt with.

Next week’s column: Palawan in the West Philippine Sea dispute

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