The recent week had Governor Jose Alvarez speaking to Capitol employees, urging them to support the bid to divide Palawan into three provinces, a matter that will be brought to a plebiscite sometime in May next year.
Republic Act 11259 divides Palawan into three provinces namely Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur – the latter being the mother province. It was signed April 5, 2019 by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
It is to be expected that the provincial government will strongly campaign for a Yes vote. It has outlined its rationale for such — to foster ease of governance, to bring government closer to the people and to quickly spur growth equitably throughout the land.
On the other side of the debate is the One Palawan campaign, a loose group of citizens and civil society determined at blocking the initiative, describing it as a mere gerrymandering scheme by politicians, denouncing its lack of genuine consultation and negating all of its claimed advantages.
The law specifically excluded residents of Puerto Princesa from voting during the plebiscite, invoking its classification as a “highly urbanized city”. One Palawan and Save Palawan Movement are bracing to challenge its legality, a matter that can only be addressed in the courts.
As the debate on the issue ratchets up, it should be up to the proponent of the measure to justify the division. To enable the people to decide adequately, we need to go beyond one-liner assumptions and claims and to have access to critical information needed for decision making.
We don’t have that at the moment – not from the provincial government nor from One Palawan. We don’t know for sure if dividing the province into three will yield the positive results being asserted by its proponents. There has been no study or even tabletop computations, for instance of projected IRA incomes and cost-benefit, presented for scrutiny. Unlike most laws that had to go through legislative scrutiny and debates, this one strangely breezed through the chambers of Congress as a fait accompli.
In the same manner, we cannot dismiss outright the measure’s assumptions, as neither One Palawan nor the independent media has the basic information to crunch numbers and analyze empirical data.
The matter at hand is too important to be decided on slogans and counter-slogans. Division creates borders—perimeters that put public in a certain stockade. Oftentimes, dissections sequester humanity. Palawan is a huge archipelago that stretches from Southern Luzon touching up Mindanao and it is home to diverse ethnicities. We are already as divided as we are culture-wise. If we divide Palawan, what’s stopping the rest of us from isolating the other?