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Anatomy of “an idea whose time has come”

It may sound slightly ungrammatical because the word “whose” requires a person as subject; but the literary giant Victor Hugo has been famously translated as having written, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

As most Palaweños would know by now, COMELEC has finally fixed the date of the plebiscite for approval (or rejection) of RA 11259 (An Act Dividing the Province of Palawan into Three Provinces) on March 13, which happens to be the birthday of my late father, Badong. Am not privy to the considerations that led to the choice of that date; but, yes, I think my father would be honored that the three new Palawan provinces (which, along with others in his time, he visualized as foreshadowing the dream of a Palawan Region) were, in a sense, to be “born” on his birthday.

It might still be a surprise to some, but the present Province of Palawan is five times the land area of Batangas, seven times the land area of Laguna, and ten times the land area of Cavite. For someone living in Balabac, to come to Puerto Princesa City to transact business at the Provincial Capitol would take around eight hours of travel time—roughly the same time it takes to travel from Metro Manila to Laoag in Ilocos Norte, in the course of which one would have passed through six or seven different provinces already. And Balabac to Puerto Princesa is only half the length of the present Province of Palawan (not counting the even more distant Cuyo, Calamian, and Kalayaan island groups). Also, because Puerto Princesa has been an independent, “highly urbanized city” since 2007 (no longer part of the Province), mainland Palawan has been physically divided since then into a northern and southern part, which are no longer contiguous. Thus, since 2007, we have been in the awkward situation of having our Provincial Capitol located in a city which is no longer part of the territory of the province.

The creation of three Palawan provinces should hasten development; at the very least, by compelling national government to invest in more provincial offices for its various agencies (meaning, more jobs, too); and, eventually, pave the way for a Palawan Region, which would finally resolve the historical conundrum of where or to which region Palawan should belong, having been tossed around over the past fifty or sixty years among the Western Visayas Region, the Southern Tagalog Region, and MIMAROPA. Because it is geographically outside any existing regional grouping, Palawan should be a region by itself. But it takes more than one province to make a region.

Of course, there will be costs and uncertainties in the consequences. Every birth has its labor and growing pains. The Lion of Southeast Asia, the great LKY himself, reportedly wept in anguish while announcing the separation of Singapore from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965. And while the developmental dimension of three new provincial government centers were undeniable, the question—“Development for whom?”—is legitimate, but, on the other hand, unanswerable in rational discourse (there is no science for this); and the question is ultimately founded on fear—a feeling or emotion—e.g., that the locals are not ready for it, or that the poor or weaker sectors of the population would be left behind, etc., fears which may or may not materialize for any number of the subject population.

While change opens us to possible evils, it also opens us to the possibility of greater good. In other words, with all due respect to those who are opposed to the division of Palawan, I could find no valid argument against the proposed creation of three new Palawan provinces. Also, the Supreme Court decision in Del Rosario, et al v. COMELEC (G.R. No. 247610, March 10, 2020) has disposed of all the legal objections against RA 11259.

Still, non-rational considerations do have a place in policy formulation. Feelings, emotions, or sentiments (nostalgia, personal antipathies, kursunada, etc.) certainly matter in politics; in deciding “political questions” which are, precisely, issues that cannot be fully resolved by existing moral or legal norms, and that therefore are left to the free choice of the majority. Hence, the plebiscite to be held on March 13.

The idea of dividing Palawan’s huge territory into more than one province must have been there from the start; the problem would have been meeting the legal requirements for viability. It was bandied around even before EDSA1; and in the decades following, no less than two Deans of the PSU School of Law—Teddy Peña (a former Minister of Natural Resources) and Dave Ponce de Leon (a former Congressman and Vice-Governor)— publicly advocated such a division. But the main obstacle to such an outcome would have been the natural aversion of national government towards new LGUs (because of the additional burden on the national budget). Indeed, it was the tremendous political capital of Governor JCA that enabled the smooth passage of RA 11259 into law. Even so, the choice of whether or not to have three new Palawan provinces still belongs to the people of Palawan.

So, to everyone on both sides, the Ayes and the Nays: the issue of three new Palawan provinces is a political question. Vote as you will; there is no need to demonize each other (name-calling impoverishes rational debate). And, yes, I think that the creation of three new Palawan provinces is an idea whose time has come. (1.III.2021)

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