The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has ordered the immediate suspension of ongoing preparatory activities for the holding of a plebiscite in May on the planned division of Palawan into three smaller provinces, taking note of the current enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) measures to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
In a memorandum dated March 25 addressed to Malacañang, the poll body stated that they decided to approve the recommendations to suspend its preparations “effective immediately.”
“The COMELEC En Bank after due deliberation has approved the suspension of all preparatory activities relative to the conduct of plebiscite to ratify the division of the province of Palawan upon the recommendation citing the ongoing ECQ declared by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. The suspension of the preparatory activities of the Palawan plebiscite is effective immediately,” the memorandum signed by acting COMELEC secretary Consuelo B. Diola stated.
The local poll body had earlier announced they were completing their preparations for the plebiscite.
The plebiscite seeks to validate Republic Act 11259 creating three new provinces out of the current province of Palawan. Its ratification by the Palawan electorate is being pushed actively by the current provincial government, citing its advantages in speeding up the development and delivery of services.
Both the provincial government and One Palawan, an NGO campaign group opposed to the division, have separately sought the postponement of the plebiscite in the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis.
“Sumulat ako para mag-request na hindi matuloy ang plebisito (March 18). Nakatanggap ng reply na forwarded na raw sa COMELEC Chair ang letter ko noong March 24. [Noong] March 25, nag-meeting ang COMELEC En Banc at nag-decide sila na postponed na ang May 11 plebiscite sa Palawan. Lingid sa kaalaman ng kapitolyo, may confirmation na kami mula sa isang COMELEC Commissioner na postponement na ang decision nila sa kanilang ‘en banc’ session,” One Palawan lead campaigner Cynthia del Rosario stated in the group’s social media page.
Provincial Information Officer (PIO) Winston Arzaga told Palawan News on Friday the suspension of COMELEC’s preparation does not equate to the “cancellation” of the plebiscite.
“Hindi maka-cancel ang plebisito. Suspension lang ang ginamit na word ni COMELEC. Hindi puwedeng ma-cancel ‘yan dahil may batas. Suspended lang ito for the meantime dahil sa COVID-19, pero hindi ‘yan mawawala. Alam ‘yan ng One Palawan,” Arzaga said.