EDITORIAL: Romancing Speaker Arroyo

Members of the Provincial Board recently voiced concern over the implication for Palawan of the ascension to the House speakership of former president and currently Pampanga representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Board member Winston Arzaga, for one, pointed out it was then President Arroyo who crafted the legal stance of the national government denying Palawan its share from the Malampaya gas project royalty incomes.

Palawan leaders have lobbied hard to push a bill at the lower House dividing Palawan into three provinces when Pantaleon Alvarez was still speaker. They managed to get it past the committee level deliberations and into the pipeline for plenary debates. How the new chamber’s leadership will now regard the measure remains to be seen.

Not to second guess Arroyo’s sentiment towards Palawan but her past relationship and dealings with province had been unpleasant, to say the least. When she was President, she spurned Palawan with a policy proclamation that the Malampaya gas deposits are outside of the province’s administrative territory, thus depriving it of a hefty share of the royalty fees paid by the oil companies. It spun into a legal battle that until now has yet to be resolved by the Supreme Court.

Her administration’s deals with the provincial government to resolve the royalty sharing issue during her time had been attended by corruption and intrigue. To maintain central government control of the funds, she allowed a scheme that pleased Palawan leaders with pork barrel funds that were flagged by the Commission on Audit for irregularities. Her own government’s use of the bulk of the Malampaya money contributed to her downfall as President.

The murder of popular broadcast journalist Dr. Gerry Ortega has been linked to his expose of the Malampaya anomalies and the downfall of former Governor Joel Reyes, a known Arroyo ally. Reyes has recently managed to extricate himself from the murder case on a technicality but is still doing jail time for corruption charges.

Speaker Arroyo has yet to indicate her disposition towards Palawan and the provincial government, which regards the Palawan division bill as a crucial piece of legislation, will be lobbying under a rather unpleasant air. It presents an interesting scenario to how deep the provincial leadership will bury the hatchet and carry its agenda with a former adversary.

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