Sep 28, 2020

Creating Smaller Palawan Provinces: A Myopic Approach to Development

While it may be true that there was no short-cutting of the legislative process, it is apparent that the bill was passed into law in a very cursory manner and without any in-depth study and analysis.

Palawan News has launched this week its regular section The Palawenyo Pulse, which encourages a free exchange of opinion on issues and concerns that affect everyone. All contributions are welcome, and subject to editorial standards observed by Palawan News.

The Palawenyo Pulse
By Ferdinand V. Blanco
Save Palawan Movement
14 October 2019

This is a reaction to the article “Creating Smaller Palawan Provinces Needed for Equity in Development” at the Opinion Page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (www.inquirer.net) on 12 September 2019 by former Palawan Board Member Winston Arzaga.

I agree with Mr. Arzaga that the passing of House Bill No. 8055 was indeed done in record time. While it may be true that there was no short-cutting of the legislative process, it is apparent that the bill was passed into law in a very cursory manner and without any in-depth study and analysis.

From a planning perspective, the division of Palawan into three provinces is just one among the many strategies to attain the objectives of prompt delivery of basic services and making government closer to the people. Contrary to what the writer claims, creating more provinces is in fact very expensive and is downright redundant because the municipal and barangay local government units (LGUs) are the front liners in the delivery of basic services to their respective constituencies.

On top of providing infrastructures and other basic social services, the provincial government’s functions are mainly to set policy directions, supervise the municipal LGUs and provide coordination with the national government.

Secretary Carlos Dominguez of the Department of Finance during his interview at One News Channel last 16 July 2019 categorically stated that splitting Palawan into three is a very expensive undertaking because the overhead becomes threefold but the productive capacity does not increase.

He added that in other countries, rather than split things up, they are consolidating their territories in order to be more economically viable. Indeed, having a large territory means a large economic base thus enabling production to have economies of scale.

One of the important components of the planning process is benchmarking. Before the proponents of the law made their final conclusion, they should have conducted due diligence by making a benchmark out of other archipelagic countries like Indonesia and Japan. They should have looked into their strategies, governance systems and policies that enabled these countries to become economically progressive.

Indonesia, the largest archipelagic country in the world, is composed of 17,500 islands but only has 34 provinces. As published in the CIA’s World Factbook, its GDP of USD3.25 trillion is much higher compared to the Philippines’ USD877.00 billion in 2017.

Indonesia’s largest province, Papua, is in fact larger than the Philippines in terms of land area and its population is almost twice larger than Palawan.

Likewise, Japan has larger land area and population over the Philippines and is one of the world’s economic giants, yet it only has 47 prefectures (provinces). Japan’s largest prefecture, Hokkaido, is 83,453 square kilometers. That is almost 5 times larger than Palawan whose area is only about 17,031 square kilometers.

The CIA World Factbook also shows that compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors in 2017, the Philippines has the highest unemployment rate. It is second only to Laos for having the highest percentage of population below poverty line. Although, we have higher GDP over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; given the current growth rate of Laos and Cambodia, it won’t be long before these two countries can overtake us.

The foregoing facts disprove the notion that the smaller the area, the faster the development. If it does, small island provinces like Dinagat, Siquijor, Biliran, Camiguin and Masbate would have been very progressive by now. Negros Oriental which is twice smaller than Negros Occidental is far less economically developed than the latter. In general, the Philippines could have already been an economic giant given its 81 provinces – the largest number of provinces in Southeast Asia. Likewise, it is far too simplistic to assume that more capitols would bring about rapid development. It is actually nothing but wishful thinking and mere speculation.

Citing the far-flung municipalities as an excuse to divide Palawan is also utterly lame. The people, especially the indigenous peoples, do not need to go the provincial capitol to avail of the government’s frontline services because most transactions are being done at the barangay and municipal levels. Moreover, island municipalities like Cuyo, Magsaysay, Agutaya, Cagayancillo and the Calamianes will not have any advantages in the division because they still have to travel by sea to get to their respective proposed capitols which, by the way, will be located close to each other in the mainland.

What these island municipalities desperately need are roads, potable water system, ports, stable and reasonably-priced electricity, hospitals, strong internet connection, livelihood opportunities and other infrastructure facilities and services. I strongly believe that there is no need for additional politicians and government employees to provide these facilities and services.

While it is true that Palaweños are compelled to go to Puerto Princesa City to get birth certificates, NBI clearance, and avail of other frontline services of the government; this can easily be remedied by establishing a one-stop government center in strategic areas or even in every municipality, particularly the island municipalities. With the onset of information technology, people can easily collaborate and transact businesses online. This also applies to the government’s frontline services.

As an example, birth certificates can now be acquired online. For those who have no internet access, there are travel agencies that facilitate the acquisition of birth certificates for a fee. Municipal LGUs with the support of the provincial government may put up internet kiosks where people who have no access to internet and cannot afford to pay can make online transactions for free. This is far cheaper than establishing new capitols.

Another case in point is the municipality of Narra which is now under the helm of Mayor Gerandy Danao. His request for a PHILHEALTH office in Narra has already been approved and, as of this writing, he has an outstanding request for an LTO Office in Narra. If all municipal mayors will be as pro-active as Mayor Danao, creating smaller provinces in Palawan is utterly unnecessary and is deemed a complete waste of time, effort and precious resources that could otherwise be used in real development undertakings.

Instead of relying solely on the Internal Revenue Allocation (IRA) from the national government, LGUs should improve their internal revenue generation by mobilizing the private sector. Establishment of growth corridors and agri-based industrial zones will be a big boost to Palawan’s economy because agricultural products will be properly packaged and/or sold in their processed form rather than merely exporting them raw.

As mentioned above, government spending should be focused on infrastructures and other services that would facilitate private investments. All we need is to implement the provincial development plan, empower MLGUs and BLGUs and mobilize the private sector. Amidst all these, provision of an honest to goodness investor-friendly environment to attract private investors cannot be overemphasized (e.g., reduction/elimination of red tape, among others).

With regards to equity in development, the sharing of the natural wealth provided in Republic Act No. 11259 (An Act Dividing Palawan into Three Provinces) is far from equitable. Under RA 7160 (Local Government Code), the municipal LGU gets the largest share of the natural wealth at 45%, followed by the barangay LGU at 35% with the province having only 20% share.

The primary reason for this is that the host municipality, especially the host barangay, directly bears the impact of any disaster that may be triggered by the extraction of natural wealth in their area.

Under RA 11259, the province will get the largest share of the natural wealth at 60% and the municipal and barangay LGUs getting only a meager 24% and 16%, respectively. In effect, the shares of the municipality and barangay will be considerably reduced to 50% each while the province gets a whooping increase of 200%. It contravenes the intention of the Local Government Code to empower the municipal and barangay LGUs.

Strengthening the bureaucracy is not about increasing the number of people in government and creating more political positions. Instead, streamlining the bureaucracy and reducing/eliminating red tape are the best way to go. A lean and mean government bureaucracy that can offer competitive salaries to attract highly competent people is far more effective than having extraneous functions with numerous deadwoods being paid out of the taxpayers’ money.

Moral value formation among the ranks of the bureaucracy is also an important factor because it could be the key to eradicate corruption which I believe is one of the major reasons why our country cannot escape from the clutches of poverty.

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