The Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) this week gave a go signal for the Commission on Elections to hold the plebiscite on the division of Palawan within the first quarter of 2021.

This political exercise has been delayed by the pandemic, as it was supposed to have been held in May had there been no global health crisis. But because of the risk of COVID-19, It was postponed by the poll body on an indefinite basis.

The decision of the IATF merely takes away the pandemic as the primary consideration in the holding of the plebiscite as mandated by the law passed by Congress last year. It is now up to the poll body to prepare and schedule the exercise. The IATF proposed to hold it as a 2-day voting window if only to allow for adherence to basic health safety protocols during the conduct of the plebiscite.

Governor Jose Alvarez has openly campaigned to hold the plebiscite at the earliest possible time, arguing that the health crisis has waned and reopening in fact has already begun. If the common hope that a coronavirus vaccine currently under development in several countries is the magic solution to end the pandemic, the year 2021 may well be a safe time to do the plebiscite and all other tasks that have been set aside.

If the Yes vote prevails, based on Gov. Alvarez’s prediction of a 75 percent landslide vote, the coming year is going to be a bold year for election preparations in time for the regular national polls in 2022. There will be an expanded slate of vacant power positions in the three new provinces that will be created, for all the players in Palawan politics to get busy with. Governor Alvarez himself, who has completed his maximum three terms, has hinted he might run as governor in one of the three new provinces that will be created.

It is important for that law, RA 11259, to be resolved the soonest possible time. If the No votes prevail, Palawan simply moves on. But if it is held too close to the May 2022 regular polls with not enough time for the creation of the new provinces in the event of a Yes outcome, the proposal itself could lose steam even among the proponents presently supporting it. The May 2022 regular elections, after all, is the whole point of this exercise.


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