Last week’s plebiscite was instructive in so many aspects, depending on where one stood on the issue. For the media which covered it fairly as a story, at least for Palawan News, it was a historical and thrilling moment of journalism. Even for many who watched it from outside, it was democracy at work.

For the players involved, it was a nasty, grueling fight with all bets on the table. The conclusion was decisive — of Palawan’s 23 municipalities, only four voted to uphold RA 11259 that had sought to divide the province into three.

Elections in Palawan had always been traditional contests. A ubiquitous subset of people engage each other over coveted positions, sometimes as allies, at times as enemies. The Palaweño voter decides, often predictably depending on the conditions of the moment.

The plebiscite, however, was a unique diversion from Palawan’s traditional electoral politics. Instead of a straightforward referendum of choice between two contrasting ideas, it degenerated into a quarrel between the two camps representing the two choices.

Right from the very start when the idea was raised in a political caucus about three years ago at the behest of the present political leadership, the debate turned into a bitter exchange of views that divided the population.

The capitol rallied all the political players to push the division. That push was so hard, it drove the body politic into polarization. The debate degenerated into an exchange of ad hominem and accusations of ill-motives. The organized civil society including the Church found itself in the unchartered territory of electoral politics.

It did not help that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), and government agencies such as the interior department or even the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), did not see the importance and necessity of taking an active role in pursuing a civil discourse centered fully on the merits and demerits of RA 11259. The debate got out of hand, progressing into a brawl.

The outcome was an upset rout, and it left deep wounds that shall take a little more time to heal. At this time, it is best for all involved to just take a step back and refocus energies into more pressing issues of concern, such as the pandemic and the economy.

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